Director Maria Schrader’s “She Said” probably isn’t a movie that will play well to the holiday crowd, but it comes from an old tradition in filmmaking that lionizes the fourth estate as the last defender of democracy and justice in a world of corruption and hate.
To paraphrase a “Pamphleteer” colleague, what better way is there to spend a Thanksgiving weekend than with a movie about the Harvey Weinstein scandal?
Journalism movies have a venerable history in the film medium — as equally do anti-journalism films. For every great film like “All The President’s Men,” “The Post,” and “Spotlight” speaking truth to power, there are equally cogent rebuttals in “Ace In the Hole,” “Sweet Smell of Success,” “Gone Girl,” and “Nightcrawler” that show the systematic failures of journalism—among them sensationalism, profiteering, propagandizing, sanctimony, and more.
“She Said” falls into the former venerable tradition, but in doing so it muddles a meaningful depiction of the challenges of reporting for sanctimonious mythmaking—proclaiming the New York Times’ ousting of one man as a victory against the horrors of Trumpism.
The film follows two “New York Times” investigative reporters—Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan)—in the aftermath of late night host Bill O’Reilly being ousted from “Fox News” for sexual impropriety.
Emboldened, they forge ahead on the story of their careers as they uncover walls of silence and armies of non-disclosure agreements surrounding the life of Mr. Weinstein and his production company Miramax.
The narrative it builds is adversarial, not merely against real sexual abusers but against the systems and people that created it—treating “The New York Times” as an unquestionable bastion of truth.
The movie is right to target disgraced Hollywood producer Mr. Weinstein, but the margins of the film unfold a more conspiratorial yarn about the all-encompassing nature of rape culture and patriarchy that extends from Hollywood to the White House.
The movie draws a clear connection between the legal red tape surrounding Mr. Weinstein’s sexual impropiety to accusations against former President Donald Trump, who was accused several times of sexual misconduct before the 2016 election.
It plots this with the acrimony of a conspiracy theorist, with Mrs. Twohey implicitly receiving death threats from Mr. Trump and Kantor being tailed by mysterious vans on the streets of New York.
While there is no shortage of reasons to criticize Trumpism six years later, the specter of the Trump Administration haunts the film and drains it of gravitas.
It comes across as a relic of a time few wish to revisit, seeded with Trump Derangement and themes better explored in more timely films like “The Assistant” and “Spotlight.”
Even just as a film, “She Said” is a very stilted experience. The camera moves with the same measured grace that cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi brough to his Oscar-winning work in “Spotlight,” but the highly researched script is belted in long stiff streams of shallow exposition.
“She Said” is tedious compared to previous procedural journalism films — a story that nearly speaks seriously to the camera and exposits the horrors of sexual harassment in the manner of a Ted Talk.
Its characters are lifeless, one-dimensional, and generally unreceptive to criticism — barreling ahead with certainty and confidence in their mission who take it for granted that the “Times” is the last bastion of truth in a broken world.
This is a challenging pill to swallow in a time when media trust is at an all time low.
The film wants to hand the facts to you as plainly as possible, but in doing so it becomes more sermon than drama — a triumphalist work of mythmaking on behalf of the #MeToo movement.