She Said, Review: One Movie Magnate, 82 Female Victims

She Said, Review: One Movie Magnate, 82 Female Victims

She Said, Review: One Movie Magnate, 82 Female Victims

An Agatha Christie detective movie, released in 1961 was titled Murder She Said. In 2022, it is not murder she said, but another heinous crime, and the ‘she’ is not one woman but 82 victims of a movie bigwig in Hollywood (actually Indiewood). Unlike the fiction film of yore, this film is based on solid fact, as chronicled by the best-seller book, She Said, and borne out by the Me Too movement worldwide, with minimum fictionalising. When a true story, the crux of which is well-known to a viewing audience, arrives at cinema halls some two years after the incidents occurred, there is an undeniable element of déjà vu. To maintain interest in the narrative, therefore, is a tougher ask, and the propensity to add large doses of fiction is rather strong. She Said does not fall victim to this trap and manages to hold its own, despite a lot of walking and a lot of talking, both face-to-face and on the phone.

It all begins with allegations of sexual misconduct against the presidential candidate Donald J. Trump, who dismissed them as “locker room talk”. But this development provided the trigger for a lot of women who came out with revelations of similar incidences by men in powerful positions, especially film producer Harvey Weinstein. Harvey and his brother, Bob Weinstein, co-founded the entertainment company Miramax, which produced several successful independent films including Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989); The Crying Game (1992); Pulp Fiction (1994); Heavenly Creatures (1994); Flirting with Disaster (1996); and Shakespeare in Love (1998). After leaving Miramax, Weinstein and Bob founded The Weinstein Company, a mini-major film studio. He was co-chairman, alongside Bob, from 2005 to 2017. Upon hearing correlated stories from different sources, New York Times’s reporter Jodi Kantor saw an emerging pattern surrounding Weinstein and the numerous female employees he had hired over the years. Joined by her colleague Megan Twohey, the two reporters set out to look for more evidence, starting with an interview with the actress Rose McGowan (Scream, Grindhouse; now 49), in 2017, who had tweeted on the subject.

It’s an all-woman show, and rightly so. Rebecca Lenkiewicz has done the screenplay, based on The New York Times investigation, by Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey and Rebecca Corbett, and the book, She Said is by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey. There is a lot of excitement to capture on camera, reminding you of the thriller genre, but the proceedings do tend to drag occasionally, when we find the journalists doing the same things with the people connected with the case. The team meetings, with the three women and Dean Baquet, their senior, and one of the two men partly involved in breaking the story, also seem to drift along similar lines. But to make-up for that, there is a riveting beginning and a couple of scenes that stay with you. One of these involves the use of the word ‘rape’ by an under 10-girl while talking to her journalist mother and the other is the one when Jodie breaks into tears on getting a phone call that actually brings good news.

That Trump and Weinstein will not be shown was only to be expected, but getting Ashley Judd to play herself was a tour de force. Efforts to meet possible victims and sources of information are met with a variety of responses: from no response, to doors being slammed in the journalists’ faces, to a willingness to talk off the record, to offers to get back on the matter, to instant phone calls to mildly hostile personnel to clearly hostile personnel, to persons and organisations and institutions that do not want to get involved. That is the least the screenplay could have done, to make the various encounters different. Otherwise, we would be seeing more of the same every time, ad nauseam. There are two main sentimental angles that surface as kind of minor sub-plots, and both are naturally integrated. One involves a hysterectomy, and the other, a pregnancy. Having said that, it is relatively simpler to put a true story penned by journalists into a script form because the story part is completely taken care of and the screenplay and dialogue are partly covered too. There is only so much you can fictionalise in a case as recent as that of Weinstein, and in any case, why would you want to, unless it was for mise en scène and purely cinematic reasons. One will never know how much was imagination and how much reality unless one read the book. One particular scene, involving Jodie, Megan and a bar customer, will have you going “Bravo”. Four letter words are used in abundance, but not once do they make you wince.

Second outing for German actress, writer and director Maria Schrader (I’m Your Man), she chose not to face the cameras under her own helm. Schrader creates a persona for Jodie and Megan that is totally credible and the way they walk and talk is convincingly portrayed. Some obvious choices are the use of a different but mimicking voice for Donald Trump and the shooting of Harvey Weinstein from behind and in profile. Ashley Judd on screen means a lot, and saves Maria the task of having an actress play the part. Pity we do not have Gwyneth Paltrow and Rose McGowan on board. Men are kept in the background, though whenever they are called upon for support, they are shown to rise to the occasion.

Whether it is the understanding husband doing baby-sitting, or the husband who knows nothing about his wife’s mishaps under Weinstein or the two men on the editorial team of the New York Times, all come across as understanding and strong members of the species. Schrader’s two leading ladies are matter-of-fact journalists, doing their jobs right, and backed by a management that is willing to spend a lot to get this story, but they are shown as women with a normal home-life too, and given to bouts of both despair and jubilation, under the deft handling of Schrader. At 129 minutes, the length of the film is just about right, since it involves a lot of investigation and there are so many characters. Like I always feel, history cannot be edited out, but maybe a couple of scenes snipped here and there would add the much needed pace.

You only have to look at Zoe Kazan (grand-daughter of Elia Kazan; The Big Sick, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, The Kindness of Strangers) and Carey Mulligan (Mudbound, Wildlife, Promising Young Woman)’s real-life pictures to see how much they have changed to get under the skin of Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey. There is a certain self-assurance in the way they walk and talk. Zoe has her own way of getting to the point after a couple of lines of introduction and greeting, and the way she separates work from family-life. Maybe this is modelled on the real life journalist, but seen in isolation, it sure is impressive. Patricia Clarkson as Rebecca looks older than her 62 years, maybe to be in character, and solidly rallies round her two reporters. Making solid impact is Andre Braugher as Dean Baquet.

In supporting roles, we have Jennifer Ehle as Ireland born actress Laura Madden, Samantha Morton as Weinstein employee Zelda Perkins who knew of his behaviour but not of its scale and blew the whistle as early as 1998, Ashley Judd as herself, Sean Cullen as former Weinstein Co. Board Member Lance Maerov, Angela Yeoh as Weinstein Co.’s HongKong in-charge Rowena Chiu, Tom Pelphrey as Megan’s husband, a literary agent, Jim Rutman, Adam Shapiro as New York Times’ columnist Ron Lieber, Anastasia Barzee as Weinstein’s Attorney Lisa Bloom, Mike Houston as Harvey Weinstein, James Austin Johnson as the voice of Donald Trump and Kelly McQuail as the voice of Rose McGowan. Obviously, with so many characters, it is not possible to do justice to their performances in this limited space.

Cinematography by Natasha Braier lights up the scenes quite well, but there is no sense of foreboding in the movement, and we also have an overdose of yellow shades. That helps in dating the subject to five-odd years ago. In addition, she foucsses on foreground and background competently. Editing by Hansjörg Weißbrich maintains a more or less steady pace, without getting too souped up or lagging behind the events. Music does not have a predominant role in this film, yet Nicholas Britell (Don’t Look Up, Italian Studies, Cruella, Carmen) is in harmony with the subject.

Actor Brad Pitt, who used to date Gwyneth Paltrow, is a producer on the film. In 2019, a documentary was made on Weinstein’s sexual offences called Untouchable, directed by Ursula Macfarlane and running into 98 minutes. There is a third film on the subject, which is in the pre-production stage, titled The Fall from Hollywood: A Harvey Weinstein Documentary. However, there is no talk of another feature, and to attempt one now would be foolhardy. She Said could apply closure to the subject. Even the MeToo internet wave, where thousands and thousands of women (and some men) told all has kind of watered down. MeToo was a movement in which people publicise their experiences of sexual abuse or sexual harassment. The phrase “Me Too” was initially used in this context on social media in 2006, on Myspace, by sexual assault survivor and activist Tarana Burke.

She Said is bound to be compared with the All the President’s Men (1976), which was based on the investigations by two Washington Post (New York Times’s rival publication) reporters of the misdemeanours of President Richard Nixon, which got four and four-and-a-half star ratings by most critics. I am afraid She Said is not in the same league, though it is thoroughly watchable. See it not because I said or she said but because it addresses an issue that has plagued the entertainment industry for centuries. We all know about the Casting Couch, but most of choose to believe that what happens on it is either consensual or exaggerated. Think again. If one movie baron can victimise at least 82 women, what does this tell you about the industry? Yet, nobody wanted to go on record. The only way this was going to work, felt the two journalists, was if all the victims jumped together. There is power in numbers. And sure enough, they jumped.

Rating: ***


(With Inputs from moviesfoundonline and filmfestivals)

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