Brandon Bethune dissects the movie that has the world thinking about the treatment of women, and analyses the impact it has on its viewers…
When first watching the trailer for Maria Schrader’s ‘She Said’, I was met with a weird sense of intrigue and frustration.
A film retelling the New York Times article by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey and the dawn of the MeToo movement felt both a necessary step, and almost too soon considering that the systemic issues in Hollywood continue to be exposed to this day, and I almost felt like the film was exploiting the very change that the industry itself needed, like a snake devouring itself.
However once I overcame that initially troubling sentiment and sat down to watch it, I realised almost immediately that a story of this importance, reverence, and weight deserved to be told, just as the original article did.
For those expecting a ‘dramatic’ recounting of the events though, that’s not what you’ll find.
The presentation is often dry and mundane, but natural in a way that wholly benefits the nightmarish everyday reality the director is trying to create.
Close-ups of women on the crowded streets of New York create the idea of inherent danger from the off, while long shots of Jodi (played by Zoe Kazan) and Megan (played by Carey Mulligan) walking past building sites, or alone at the dead of night incites the type of uncomfortable dread the victims of this story must have felt in their time with Weinstein, or the everyday horror women feel that this film, and this entire story, is fighting to change.
Just as strong though are the paced walks through the corridors of The New York Times offices, with Jodi and Megan looking like they’re off to war in a way far more powerful than that of their silver-screen counterparts in Marvel.
Kazan and Mulligan are great in their roles too, matching elements of swaggering bravado with fear, depression, and moments of regret at even taking on this seemingly impossible task, showing an emotional complexity that’s sometimes lacking in post-Me Too cinema.
As a review in the January 2023 edition of Empire Magazine put it, “She Said deftly avoids the trappings of potential performative feminism – the kind of female-led films that make for neat marketing about girlboss culture or the reductive pigeonholding of all interesting women into ‘strong female characters”.
Mulligan provides the more weary hand in the film while also providing its emotional core, as a new mother struggling in the aftermath of her pregnancy, and follows up a stellar performance in the similarly toned ‘Promising Young Woman’ with a dialled back, but no less impressive performance here.
Zoe Kazan also excels in a much deserved lead role, moving on from her rom-com past and spreading her dramatic wings to provide more than glimpses of what we saw from her in the likes of ‘What If’ and ‘The Big Sick’.
Returning to the stylistic choices behind the film, it lacks the often accentuated and artificial drama that make up shows like Apple’s ‘The Morning Show’. Instead, She Said goes a route that some may say sacrifices dramatic effect for absolute realism, for better or worse.
And while I do understand the criticism that has been made for the film on that basis, She Said is at its best, and perhaps scariest, when it is as matter of fact as it can be about it’s intimate, important, and horrific subject matter.
Which personally as an aspiring journalist is fascinating to watch, with the story of the story being dramatic enough itself to justify the approach to filmmaking being more documentary esque than a major Hollywood production.
There’s no third act escalation here, or an Oscar baiting monologue, just conversations interrupted by phone calls, a chess games like struggle for information, and the most important battle: getting the women to speak out against their abusers.
The closest the film gets to a dramatic conclusion is a tear-filled hug when one of the victims finally decides to go on the record ahead of the stories’ publishing, which concludes the beginning of what has become one of the most powerful and important movements of our generation.
She Said isn’t an easy watch, but for someone who had their reservations going in about the respectful handling of the subject matter, it succeeds in doing what the article and the movement set out to do in the first place: telling these brave women’s stories.