Movie Review: Hollywood’s biggest scandal is reported, and exposed by Women — “She Said”

We pick up the tail end of a story of reporter Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) was just finishing up, the 2016 research and publishing her expose of Donald Trump’s legion of sexual assault accusers, and facing death threats and an indifferent electorate that put the man in the White House despite everything we’d learned about his character and utter lack of it. “You are a DISGUSTING human being,” we hear the disgusting human being Trump — an impersonator, here — shout at her on the phone. Twohey has to watch herself reviled by Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.

That experience made Twohey reluctant to go down this road again on a new story. But Kantor is seen seeking Twohey’s advice about getting women to open up. And after O’Reilly’s career-ending sexual predation and payoff scandal blew up, the film suggests, the nation’s indifference changed, and eventually the paper added Twohey to the ever-widening Weinstein investigation.

And we start to meet actresses and ex-employees still shaken by what happened to them, many of them suffering life-altering assaults decades before. Rose McGowan, Weinstein’s first and most outspoken accuser, is reached by phone (voiced by another actress), and bitterly relates how frustrating it is “to shout and have no one listen.”

Woman after woman hangs up on Twohey, or slams a door in Kantor’s face, after first giving her a look of shock and pain.

Samantha Morton plays a onetime British publicist with Miramax who reported her experiences and those of others, and was one among many whose silence was bought — paid off by a “system” set up to protect Weinstein from everyone he abused. Morton gets across how furious the woman still is in just a single, can’t-look-away scene.Ashley Judd had already come very close to naming Weinstein as her own Hollywood rapist, and seeing her speak at the Women’s March on Washington after Trump’s election, she is approached. Judd plays herself here, and knowing what we know about what Weinstein did to kill her career, that’s a tasty bit of acting revenge. And then we meet the older woman whose story frames this film. Laura Madden was an Irish girl who stumbled across a period piece being filmed near her home and talked her way onto the set and into the business, a history related in a couple of dialogue-free scenes that open “She Said.” The last of those introductory scenes is her running down a city street, hysterical and in tears.

The radiant Jennifer Ehle (the definitive Elizabeth Bennett on TV;s “Pride and Prejudice”) plays the adult Madden, a mother long-removed from the film business, facing a cancer scare when the reporters track her down. She won’t talk. Until, that is, she gets her Irish up at being threatened.Ehle is the heart and face of “She Said,” and the canniest bit of casting, because she will break your heart over what this woman endured.Mulligan, playing a reporter who starts this story pregnant and goes through post-partum depression in its aftermath, gives Twohey a world-weariness, and an easily-triggered fire that explodes with the right provocation. Kazan’s Kantor is a case study in empathy journalism, finding ways to connect with sources to get them to open up, or relating her own post partum depression to Twohey as a way of bonding so that the senior reporter will pitch in.Kantor pops in unannounced on those who won’t respond to her calls, breaks confidence to one potential source’s husband (a non-no) and uses their shared New York Jewish heritage to wring facts out of a male ex-Miramax exec.And we see her trying to turn away her pre-tween daughter’s questions about this very adult subject she’s writing about, bowled over by the kid’s quick grasp of what the all-binding acronym NDA meant to Weinstein and how it protected him from punishment for so long.

The implication of including all these daughters in this film of this story? That they were enduring this ordeal, all of them, so that their children would never face what they had to put up with.

I like the film’s treatment of the shoe-leather and rent-a-car tedium of journalism, but couldn’t help but notice Kazan portraying an eager note-taker who sits, in every interview, with her pen poised on the paper, transfixed, taking in what she’s hearing but never ever writing anything down.Patricia Clarkson plays the paper’s special projects editor encouraging and urging on her reporters. Andre Braugher plays Times editor Dean Basquet, bringing a gruff no-nonsense bluster to the paper’s direct dealings with the infamously bullying Weinstein. There aren’t many laughs in this sad, infuriating story. But Basquet’s dismissal of threatening, intimidating and stalling calls from Weinstein are hilarious. Any journalist who ever dealt with the man, directly or indirectly (I did, once or twice) knows you just didn’t hang up on Harvey. Even the general public picked up on that ogre vibe.

The film’s similarities to “Spotlight,” which was about the Catholic Church’s worldwide predatory priests cover-up, are inescapable. But Schrader and screenwriter Lenkiewicz give their film a decidedly feminine and feminist bent. Women urge other women to “use your experience to protect other people,” Kantor gets a tad starstruck from all her encounters with and conversations with “Gwyneth” (never seen), and there are lots of hugs of support and tears of relief when this courageous woman or that one takes a stand and faces its consequences, all over again.

No, you just can’t make the act of transcribing notes, reaching conclusions, writing and re-writing, editing and then, almost comically, two reporters and four editors standing over a single PC reading what they’ve produced hitting the “publish” button “cinematic” Even the fear that competing reporter Ronan Farrow’s expose would publish before theirs lacks high stakes drama, and gets mentioned but played-down here. But Schrader lets her players do the heavy lifting, and to a one, they don’t let her down. The women of this scandal and this movie about it reporting it make “She Said” a thoroughly engrossing account of how one of the touchstone stories of our time came to light, one door knocked-on, one tearful recollection at a time.

Rating: R for language and descriptions of sexual assault.

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

Credits: Directed by Maria Schrader, scripted by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, based on the NY Times reporting of Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey. A Universal release.

Running time: 2:08

Rating: R for language and descriptions of sexual assault.

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

Credits: Directed by Maria Schrader, scripted by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, based on the NY Times reporting of Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey. A Universal release.

Running time: 2:08

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
This entry was posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.