She Said (2022)

Tepid ‘She Said’ doesn’t always say enough

“I swear on my children.” That was a favorite line of BS disgraced-and-convicted movie mogul Harvey Weinstein uttered with sociopathic insincerity before molesting dozens of women, be they Hollywood stars or terrified underlings at the indie giant, Miramax. This went unchallenged for three decades. Why? Because he was Harvey Weinstein, arguably the most powerful man in the entertainment industry, recipient of SIX best-picture Oscars and pals with Ben and Matt. What Harvey wanted, Harvey got – until two dogged investigative reporters from the New York Times became his worst nightmare.

It was poetic justice that this Goliath was slain, not by David, but by two unassuming women, balancing family and career, while relentlessly seeking victims willing to go on record with disturbing tales of how Weinstein lured his prey into hotel rooms, before threatening to end their careers if they didn’t submit to his lascivious demands. That all ended in October 2017, when Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor proved the pen is mightier than the perv, with a Pulitzer-winning exposé that later evolved into a book and now a movie, aptly titled “She Said.”

Directed by Maria Schrader (“I’m Your Man”), the film faithfully adheres to the blueprint laid out by best-picture-winners “All the President’s Men” and the Boston-set, “Spotlight.” It’s both the picture’s strength and its greatest weakness, triggering an unshakable sense of having been there, done that, as Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Kantor (Zoe Kazan) work the phones, pound the pavement and dig through reams of documents hoping against hope to unearth the one nugget that will fell the giant.

It’s riveting at times, particularly when listening to the likes of Ashley Judd (as herself), Rose McGowan (in voice only), and ex-Miramax staffer Laura Madden (an affecting Jennifer Ehle) recount the horrors of being Weinstein’s new “pet,” forced to submit, or face blacklisting.

Whether you’re a studio head or a U.S. president, odds are you’re going to win the battle of “he said, she said.” That’s the power of being in power. Schrader and writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz, working from Twohey and Kantor’s lengthy-titled bestseller, “She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story that Helped Ignite a Movement,” hammer that reality home repeatedly. To excess, in fact. They also get too bogged down in an extraneous endeavor to delve into the home lives of Twohey and Kantor, and their fight to juggle career and childrearing. It’s as though the pair are being beatified for duties millions of women deal with every day. It serves no purpose.

Worse, it shifts the focus away from the victims and onto the reporters. They are not the story; they are the conduit to exposing and righting a wrong. It’s their job, plain and simple. “Spotlight” and “All the President’s Men” understood this, and that’s what made both films so impactful. By comparison, “She Said” feels preachy, even cloying at times. Twohey and Kantor would be the first to tell you their lives are no more daunting than any of their Times colleagues. It’s not even their idea to include the domestic element; it’s the brainchild of producers eager to lure female ticket buyers.

It’s the victims, dummy! They are the story, and they are the ones who should be foremost in our minds while exiting the theater. Ultimately, that’s how “She Said” deprives you of a better understanding of what it was like to be a victim of a man who wielded his power and influence over 82 women (that we know of) via intimidation and non-disclosure agreements. The reporters DID contend with threats and surveillance, but the true bravery is exhibited by the handful of women willing to go public with their private trauma, under the pressure of being sued, shunned and humiliated.

Still, Mulligan and Kazan triumph with remarkable, finely nuanced performances that perfectly capture the life – I use that term loosely – of reporters committed to seeking the truth at a time when my trade is unfairly being labeled “fake news.” There’s nothing fake about the hard work and attention to detail Twohey and Kantor employ. And the actresses nail that aspect of their characters. It’s the scenes of them at home with their hubbies and kids that feel disingenuous. Doing away with such trivialities not only would have made “She Said” more pertinent but a lot shorter than its bloated 135 minutes.

Less emphasis on the homefront also would facilitate much-needed fleshing out of Twohey and Kantor’s superiors: assistant managing editor, Rebecca Corbett (Patricia Clarkson), and Times executive editor, Dean Baquet (Andre Braugher). Not to mention victims and key witnesses, all of whom are given short-shrift. That’s not to say “She Said” isn’t worth your time and attention. It may lack the intrigue of “All the President’s Men” and the humanity of “Spotlight,” but it serves a historical purpose in pinpointing the exact moment when the likes of Matt Lauer, Bill O’Reilly, Charlie Rose and Roger Ailes came to pay the price for crimes enabled by corporations more concerned with the bottom line than crossing it.

Movie review

She Said

Rated: R for language, descriptions of sexual assault

Cast: Carey Mulligan, Zoe Kazan, Patricia Clarkson, Andre Braugher, Ashley Judd and Samantha Morton

Director: Maria Schrader

Writers: Rebecca Lenkiewicz

Runtime: 135 minutes

Where: In theaters

Grade: B-

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