Those old Hollywood newspaper strips are great, but today’s journalists don’t run through newsrooms screaming, “Let me rewrite!” They don’t sprint across the room yelling, “Stop the presses!” via the click-clack of teletypewriters and manual typewriters.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t stage an exciting scene in a modern newsroom where people stare at monitors, munch on take-out salads and try not to spill coffee on the keyboard. That said, just try not to get goosebumps when the editor’s cursor finally hits “Publish” in “She Said,” the story of The New York Times’ first Harvey Weinstein scoop. Or not gasping loudly, which I heard myself do.
But She Said, a worthy entry into a film genre that includes Spotlight and, of course, All the President’s Men, isn’t just about the power of journalism. It’s also about courage, from the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted by Weinstein and have come forward at personal risk – for their careers, their reputations or their well-being. It was her bravery that allowed reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey to tell a story that helped launch the broad reckoning known as the #MeToo movement. And because of women like you — some famous actresses, but mostly young women trying to work in an industry they loved — Weinstein is in a Los Angeles courtroom this week, already serving a 23-year sentence in New York -year sentence and now faces seven more counts. (he pleads not guilty)
Women like Laura Madden, for example. The film opens with her, an eager young employee of Weinstein’s Miramax company, beginning what she hopes will be an exciting new career on a film set in Ireland in 1992. Shortly after, we see her tearfully walking down a Dublin street, clutching her clothes after an encounter in the hotel room. Some 20 years later, the elder Madden (a heartbreaking Jennifer Ehle) gets on the record for The Times reporting, telling reporters that Weinstein “took my voice away… just as I was about to start finding her” that day.
Starring Carey Mulligan as the quietly intense, driven Twohey and Zoe Kazan as the cheeky, more exuberant Cantor, “She Said” is broadly faithful to the 2019 book, which was published two years after the story’s publication. Readers will recognize many conversations word for word.
But director Maria Schrader and screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz had to make key cinematic decisions. Below: How to represent Weinstein. It feels right that we never see his face. He’s only heard on phone calls, except when he shows up unannounced at the Times in a last-ditch effort to charm, frighten, or embarrass reporters, and then we only see an actor’s back.
The decision is important in part because of the message it sends: This story may concern Weinstein, but it’s not HIS story. It’s a story of the women who held him accountable – former employees or actresses like Ashley Judd, a key voice in the Times article. Judd plays herself here, and who better to describe her own experience?
Also aware: No attack is simulated. However, we do hear the actual confrontation between Weinstein and model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, recorded during a police operation. When the camera lands on a carpeted hotel hallway – the frequent scene of Weinstein’s misdeeds from New York to LA to Cannes to Sundance – the real Weinstein persuades the woman to come into his room, even for five minutes. “Don’t ruin your friendship with me for five minutes,” he pleads.
Unlike the book, the film fleshes things out by depicting the reporters’ private lives. The results are mixed here. On the one hand, we want to know more about her: in Mulligan’s nuanced, lived-in performance, for example, we see the effects of postpartum depression on Twohey. As for Kantor, she is depicted struggling on a daily basis to take care of children while getting the job done. (In a light-hearted moment that parents can relate to, she silently offers her child the Netflix password when a source calls.) But there just isn’t enough backstory time for either character, so it feels shallow.
We experience the be-all and end-all of reporting – not easy to present, since a lot happens in e-mails, SMS, calls. Luckily there are encounters on the doorstep. A woman slams the door in the duo’s face. Another tells Twohey that the matter was resolved amicably, and her apparent fear makes it clear that a financial settlement obliges her not to speak.
A great Patricia Clarkson plays the team’s hardworking editor, Rebecca Corbett. Andre Braugher is former editor-in-chief Dean Baquet who tells his reporters it’s time to start writing. Like Ehle, Samantha Morton is unforgettable as Miramax employee Zelda Perkins.
If anyone (other than Weinstein) gets particularly badly off, it’s his attorneys. Lanny Davis (an excellent Peter Friedman from “Succession”) suggests that the “real” story isn’t the mogul’s deeds, but rather his growth into a better man. The words of attorney Lisa Bloom, whose Twitter bio describes her as a campaigner for victims of harassment and abuse, are revealed in a memo to Weinstein Twohey received asking to be taken on by his team and him said how he could “recast himself” as the “hero” of the story and suggests discrediting accusers like actress Rose McGowan. (Bloom has said she’s sorry for working with Weinstein.)
“She Said” ends with the reporters and editors bending over the terminal, rereading the story, removing a few double spaces, and hitting the button. There was no way they could have known what forces their reporting would unleash – forces that will swirl for five more years in a movement that has had successes and setbacks, triumphs and backlashes. Things really were just getting started on this day in 2017, and it feels like they still are.