Five years ago, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey broke Hollywood (if only briefly) when they reported out the numerous sex crimes committed by super producer Harvey Weinstein. Their reporting catapulted the MeToo movement into the public consciousness, led to other abusers being outed, and then a bunch of actresses wore black to the Golden Globes. Two years later, Kantor and Twohey wrote a book about their reporting, and now that book is a glossy movie.
She Said, directed by Maria Schrader, sticks to the thesis of the book. The “he said” part of the expression is omitted for a reason. This is a movie about women, the ones who were Weinstein’s victims and the ones who broke their story. When the journalists are reporting out the victims’ stories — the clock ticking as the Weinstein machine is always one step ahead until it’s not — the movie hums along. But at other times, She Said attempts to spin too many plates, and inevitably some of them break.
Carey Mulligan’s Twohey, a new mom and the more stolid of the two reporters, is pragmatic and headstrong, which we know because she has a deep voice and says things like, “This is all gonna come out.” Zoe Kazan is Kantor, also a mom and the softer one of the duo, which in this telling of the story means that she is on the brink of tears more than once throughout the film.
Around them is a crew of fantastically cast supporting actors. Andre Braugher brings a stoic, almost paternal quality to his performance as New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet. Patricia Clarkson, as always, delivers exactly what she needs to as editor Rebecca Corbett. Even Kaley Cuoco’s random fiancé is serviceable as Twohey’s husband.
But if we’re talking about supporting performances, Samantha Morton steals the show. Playing one of Weinstein’s former employees, her big scene with Kazan is the turning point of both the film and the investigation. For a moment, you forget that you already know this story, and it feels like you’re hearing it for the first time straight from her. It is, unfortunately, a performance that puts into stark clarity how rote the rest of the film feels.
Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s script seems to think there might be someone in the audience who has been in a coma for five years and doesn’t know who Harvey Weinstein is or what he did. When it’s not clearing its throat with endless exposition, She Said can’t really decide if it wants to be an All The President’s Men story about journalism or a drama about two working moms trying to have it all. The point may very well be that those two narratives are inextricable from one another, but the latter feels shoehorned in. At one point Kantor’s precocious young daughter asks if she’s writing a story about rape. We are supposed to glean that this means the reality of sexual violence is known to women at a young age, but it just comes across as a weird thing for a kid to ask.
Kantor and Twohey’s book is mostly about writing emails and making phone calls. It is a great instruction manual for anyone trying to do investigative work, but, like life, it doesn’t exactly have a three-act structure. Lenkiewicz does her best with this, while also trying to remain faithful to the reality of the story. It’s not her fault that the more interesting elements of the story are the ones that we all read about in the Times: the legal web these women were spun into in order to ensure their silence, the structures put into place to keep Miramax and the Weinstein Company chugging along, and the sickening routine Weinstein had to sexually assault his victims.
In making a movie based on a book about the reporting of a groundbreaking piece of journalism, you are playing a game of telephone where the end result is never as scintillating as the original story. Nevertheless, there are worse ways to spend two hours. She Said has lots of important things to say (no pun intended), and it often says those things fairly well. If you can get past the irony of it being a product of Brad Pitt’s production company, you’re in for several very good performances in a film that doesn’t really come together. Your mom is going to love it.