It opens with a young woman walking her dog along the shore. There she stumbles upon a group of men in 18th-century British red coats unloading a clipper ship. It’s the 1990s: What in the world is going on here? Someone is shooting a movie, and the young woman pauses to watch. A couple of PAs spot her and wave her over. They show her the walkie-talkies they’re using to communicate with the massive crew, point out departments, etc. The young woman nods along and smiles. She looks comfortable and welcome. It’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship, the promise of a life in the movies.
One cut later, and all that beauty, all that promise, evaporate in the early morning hours as the young woman runs down the street: Her face in terror, her clothes rumpled, shoes in hand. It was over before it even began.
This opening illustrates a pattern that becomes all too familiar in She Said: A young woman becomes enchanted by the magic of the movies, the promise of a career, and then the door slams shut once Miramax producer Harvey Weinstein invites them into his hotel room. Weinstein’s abuses have been well documented and litigated, and though these abuses form the crux of She Said’s narrative, director Maria Schrader and screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz refrain from dramatizing them. Instead, She Said opts for the women’s stories over images to carry the emotional weight and place the viewers inside those trapped spaces. In one scene, a woman recounts a typical hotel room enoucter with Weinstein as the camera tracks through an empty hotel room. Instead of seeing what transpired, our minds fill in the negative space with whatever shape sexual intimidation takes in our minds. In another, Schrader’s camera tracks along empty hotel corridors while secretly recorded audio of Weinstein trying to coerce actress Ambra Battilana Gutierrez into the shower. Gutierrez was wearing a wire at the request of the New York Police Department, and the coldness and insistence of Weinstein’s commands are far more curdling than anything Schrader could have brought to the screen.
Not that Schrader needs to; the story of She Said provides plenty. Based on the work of New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor and editor Rebecca Corbett—which Twohey and Kantor turned into a book—She Said is more about the process of reporting than it is about Weinstein or toxic work environments or abuses of power. Though all three hang over the movie like a dark cloud. Twohey (Carey Mulligan) receives rape/death threats for her investigations into Donald Trump’s sexual misconduct, and a simple shot of a black SUV slowly stalking Kantor (Zoe Kazan) down the street says it all.
Schrader and Lenkiewicz inject enough of these moments to remind the audience that Twohey and Kantor’s work is a threat to the system, but not so much that the narrative tips over into dramatics. Instead, the majority of She Said takes place in the seemingly benign and sunny New York Times building. Twohey and Kantor make phone calls, track leads, discuss progress with Corbett (Patricia Clarkson) and executive editor Dean Baquet (Andre Braugher), and write. The story they have, but the sources they don’t. Too afraid of legal and professional action and tired of putting themselves on the line and getting nothing in return, the women Twohey and Kantor interview will not go on the record. And without a name to come forward, the editorial staff of the Times is tasked with a quandary: Running the story without named sources would invite dismissal and discretization. It could be the last thing Twohey and Kantor ever publish. But the story could also prompt others to come forward. It could start a revolution.
The outcome of that decision is known to history. Though, much like All the President’s Men and Spotlight, She Said is less about the result and more about the process. It’s a somewhat plain movie, save for a couple of standout scenes, that seem to know that the audience coming to She Said is interested in the content, not so much the form.
She Said (2022)
Directed by Maria Schrader
Screenplay by Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Based on the book She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, which was based on their reporting with Rebecca Corbett
Produced by Lexi Barta, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Brad Pitt
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Zoe Kazan, Patricia Clarkson, Andre Braugher, Jennifer Ehle, Angela Yeoh, Samantha Morton
Universal Pictures, Rated R, Running time 128 minutes, Opens Nov. 18, 2022.