Films about the newsroom usually carry a heroic atmosphere to them. They feature journalists running around tracking down sources, taking phone calls that interrupt their family dinners, and being threatened by the people they’re writing about. The heroes wield questions, paper, a pen, and the truth, instead of guns and a badge. All the Presidents Men and Spotlight are two of the favorites in this genre for those reasons; She Said follows in their path. And on the surface, it does what those other movies also accomplish: the news story got written, and the truth prevailed. Yet She Said carries with it an air of hypocrisy. In this case, it’s hard to ignore that the call really is coming from inside the house.
Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan play New York Times journalists Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor respectively, two mothers with daughters working in a male-dominated industry writing stories about powerful men and the abuse they inflict on others. Mulligan and Kazan make a great team, as did Twohey and Kantor. When accusations of sexual abuse and misconduct against film producer Harvey Weinstein begin to surface, Kantor takes the story to her editors, who tell her to go for it. Twohey comes on to the story after her maternity leave and months after breaking a similar story about allegations against Donald Trump in 2016. As you can imagine, she’s become quite cynical about what journalists can actually accomplish by pursuing a given story when men continue to rise above such allegations.
The film is full of powerful performances and scenes. Mulligan and Kazan wear their character’s journalistic integrity like armor. But exhaustion and fear linger beneath the surface. While their search for the truth keeps the film rolling, it’s the performances of the actresses playing Weinstein’s victims that ultimately make the movie as worthwhile as it is, particularly when it comes to Samantha Morton and Jennifer Ehle.
“Let’s interrogate the whole system.”
Morton plays Zelda Perkins, a woman who speaks to Kantor about her time in her early 20s as Weinstein’s assistant. Her scene with Kazan in a London diner is long and engaging. Even though some flashbacks are included, the dialogue and Morton’s performance are all you really need to understand Zelda’s fear and frustration about how she and another girl were forced to sign NDAs and keep quiet about Weinstein. Ehle plays Laura Madden, a woman who’s just been told she has breast cancer, and the only woman Kantor and Twohey know of that never signed an NDA and could go on the record. Put simply, these women are the real heroes.
But while She Said does all the right things to make a journalistic movie about something that helped spark an entire movement, its real-life context matters. When Twohey and Kantor, surrounded by their editors, hit publish on their piece, it’s a moment of triumph and defiance. But She Said is produced by Brad Pitt, who himself has been accused of alleged abuse by his ex-wife Angelina Jolie. Pitt, while still married to Jolie, also worked with Weinstein even after Jolie told him about Weinstein’s behavior. The moments of defiance in the film feel undermined by that knowledge, leaving behind an ultimately hollow feeling of victory by the time the credits roll.
Twohey and Kantor’s reporting did eventually lead to a 23-year jail sentence for Weinstein. But the obvious problem is that Hollywood is putting out a movie about itself without interrogating itself, produced by an alleged industry perpetrator. How are we then supposed to take the film’s triumphant bell-ringing as anything sincere or meaningful? Twohey herself is also depicted as a hero up against an industry trying to shut down her reporting, a real win for feminists and women everywhere. But again, context matters. Last Monday, The New York Times published a piece questioning the use of puberty blockers for transgender youth — written by Megan Twohey — which LGBTQ people and medical professionals say is misleading.
She Said will move you; dig deeper, however, and you’ll find that films like She Said just want to tell a nice story — extra points for girl boss moments if you got them. The underlying hypocrisy of the film sours its powerful moments of retribution, undermined by powerful men hiding behind the veneer of being an “ally,” while women whose supposed search for truth and justice doesn’t extend to the more marginalized.
She Said is now playing in theaters. Watch the official trailer here.
Featured image courtesy of Universal Pictures.
SHE SAID - 7.5/10