‘She Said’ Drives Home the Toll Weinstein’s Abuses Took on His Victims
Journalists have faced more scrutiny in recent years, and viewers see just how anxiety-inducing the profession can be in “She Said,” an important drama about the investigative story that sparked the #MeToo movement. Based on the book of the same name by Megan Twohey (played here by Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan), the film follows these two New York Times reporters as they investigate a then-Hollywood titan, producer Harvey Weinstein, and his abuses against multiple women.
“She Said” begins in 2016, when Megan is reporting on sexual abuse allegations made against then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. If listening to his accusers tell their harrowing stories was not emotionally taxing enough, she even gets an angry phone call from Trump herself (voiced here by none other than “Saturday Night Live” impersonator James Austin Johnson), which is enough to raise the blood pressure of even the most patient person. We come to see how her story became a double-edged sword. Although the accusations against the 45th POTUS ignited a new feminist movement that birthed the Women’s March, it also served to discourage some women from speaking out against powerful men. If Trump could have all these accusations made against him and still be elected president, what was the point?
Months later, Jodi receives tips about Weinstein. She interviews actress Rose McGowan (voiced by Kelly McQuail), who details her horrifying story of being raped by the Miramax founder after meeting him in a hotel for a business meeting. Understandably, Rose is hesitant about going on the record with her accusations, as is Ashley Judd (played by herself in an emotional performance), who admits to being sexually harrassed by Weinstein during a video call with Jodi. Soon, Jodi asks Megan, who has recently had a baby and is dealing with a tough postpartum period, to join forces with her for the Weinstein story. Diving into another sex abuse investigation so soon after her maternity leave is a daunting prospect for Megan, but Jodi, who is herself a mother, is empathetic to what she is going through.
Director Maria Schrader explores how balancing career and motherhood is just one of the challenges women face in the workforce. After interviewing Gwyneth Paltrow offscreen, Megan and Jodi turn their attention to the women who worked directly for Weinstein, including more than one who received a payoff. They center their focus on three former assistants, going literally to the ends of the world to talk to these women: Laura Madden (Jennifer Ehle) in Wales, Zelda Perkins (Samantha Morton) in London, and Rowena Chiu (Angela Yeoh) in the Bay Area. Ehle, Morton and Yeoh all give powerful, affecting performances, but Ehle is particularly heartbreaking, not in the least because of a tragic ordeal Laura is going through in the present day.
The incredible cast also includes Patricia Clarkson as Rebecca Corbett, Megan and Jodi’s strong and supportive editor, and Andre Braugher as executive editor Dean Baquet, a man who has had past dealings with Weinstein and refuses to fall for his intimidation tactics. As for Weinstein himself, Schrader has wisely chosen not to show his face in her film. A similar choice was made in the #MeToo-inspired drama “The Assistant,” in which the offscreen Weinstein-like boss is portrayed as a malevolent force haunting the office. At first, Weinstein has a similar effect in “She Said, “ but by the end, him being faceless serves to rob him of some of his power.
While “She Said” does not reveal anything new about the allegations themselves — Twohey and Kantor’s original article and book, as well as reportings by Rownan Farrow and Ursula Macfarlane’s excellent documentary “Untouchable” all thoroughly cover them and do justice to the victims — the film cuts to the heart of the Weinstein tragedy, as we see here the stronghold he had on his employee victims even years after they stopped working for him. Many of them had trouble finding other jobs in entertainment afterwards, and some left the business altogether, meaning the abuse sent their lives in directions they would not have gone otherwise. Ironclad non-disclosure agreements prevented many of them from speaking out, but even those who have not been legally silenced by Weinstein and his team have valid reasons for not wanting to go on the record.
Then there’s the emotional toll on everyone. As journalists, Megan and Jodi are expected to maintain professional distance from their subjects, but we see firsthand how impossible it is not to experience strong emotions while working on a story like this and carry them over into one’s personal life. When the first woman does decide to put her name out there, giving credibility to this story Megan and Jodi have put their blood, sweat and tears into, there’s an emotional release, and it is an incredibly moving moment.
“She Said” releases Nov. 18 in theaters nationwide.