She Said lends no depth to its leads and is an aesthetically anonymous work that fails to justify the big screen treatment.
It has been five years since New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor published their landmark investigative story on film producer and Miramax co-founder Harvey Weinstein, revealing that the much-lauded — and equally reviled — Hollywood titan was a serial sex offender who had assaulted numerous women under his employ, dating back to the early-‘90s. The piece was incendiary, helping to propel the #MeToo movement and exposing how systemic rot not only allows men like Weinstein to retain their positions of power, but aids in covering up their reprehensible acts by silencing their victims. Director Maria Schrader’s She Said, based on the best-selling book of the same name by Twohey, Kantor, and Rebecca Corbett, seeks to dramatize the events that lead to the publishing of that article, following the two young journalists as they uncover the insidious truth about the Tinseltown legend. Unfortunately, those expecting a thrilling portrayal of investigative journalism a la All the President’s Men should look elsewhere; She Said is dignified to a fault, lacking the urgency necessary to make such material sing.
It certainly doesn’t help matters that the story itself is so recent, published in an era where those interested in discovering deep details can find it with the click of a mouse. All the President’s Men was born at a time when access to such information was more limited, lending its behind-the-scenes narrative thrilling immediacy. She Said instead plays like a filmed Wikipedia entry, flitting from one Big Scoop to the next without taking the time to focus on anything that might be the least bit novel to those already familiar with its story’s broad strokes. That said, there’s no denying the power generated in hearing Weinstein’s victims discuss the heinous acts they were forced to endure, with a murderer’s row of character actresses — Samantha Morton and Jennifer Ehle, amongst them — bringing their stories to heart-wrenching life, detailing the devastating effects the monstrous Weinstein wrought. But Schrader and screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz commit so fully to being respectful of these brave survivors — quite rightly, of course — that it does a great disservice to the portrayals of both Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Kantor (Zoe Kazan), who are provided nothing in the way of depth, leaving them only anonymous tour guides to this litany of sins. What effect did this story have on the lives of these fierce and intelligent women, young mothers who devoted every waking moment to a story that desperately needed to be told? The film provides one or two scenes of Twohey and Kantor being distracted while their saintly husbands take on the brunt of the familial responsibilities, but there’s little else to mine for impact, and what is present is rendered in such a pedantic manner that it more closely resembles a particularly lame sitcom. It’s ultimately revealed that Twohey suffers from postpartum depression, which the film brings up in two scenes and then never mentions again — which is at best bizarre and at worst insulting — although to be fair, that’s one more character detail than Kantor possesses, which should tell you all you need to know about the impression she leaves on the audience.
The psychological and emotional fallout from being embroiled in this investigation twenty-four-seven, for months on end would be enough to fuel several films, but it’s addressed here in only the most cursory ways possible. As cliché as it is to say in this day and age, and as unwelcome as it often ends up in execution, a story like She Said would benefit greatly from the limited series treatment, where a good six to eight hours could really help to expand both the details of the investigation itself and improve the shallow characterization that plagues the proceedings. Mulligan and Kazan are exactly fine in the lead roles, but they have nothing to do for most of the film’s running time, save for various shots of them eating together and looking at their notes — truly, there is so much eating. It speaks to a bigger problem, specifically the filmmaking craft itself, which is beyond bland. It’s easy enough to understand Schrader’s logic, that such material doesn’t need to be sensationalized by aesthetic fireworks, which could threaten to teeter over into poor taste, but there’s a difference between respectful and narcoticized, and She Said makes a daytime soap opera look like a work of slow cinema by comparison. (This critic was nearly moved to the point of cartwheels for the lone scene where the camera actually moved; thrilling stuff.) Schrader actually engineered a similar approach in her previous feature, 2021’s I’m Your Man, but in that instance it served to successfully ground the film’s more fantastical elements, even as it told its own unique tale of female empowerment. Indeed, it’s a specific point of view that is most sorely missing in She Said, and makes one wonder why they hired Schrader in the first place. It’s not a great sign when your film can’t even rise to the level of Jay Roach’s tone-deaf Bombshell, which trafficked in similar thematics but at least had a specific perspective, even if it was just warmed-over, wink-wink-nudge-nudge Adam McKay bullshit. Like so many before it, She Said ultimately suffers because, in desperately trying to be reverential, it forgets to be cinematic — admittedly impossible to define precisely, but easy to spot the absence of — rendering the entire affair forgettable, even as its true-life participants are anything but. Why tell this story again in a new medium when said medium remains unembraced? Those whose stories are dramatized in She Said certainly deserve better.