Wednesday, November 16, 2022

She Said is a standard, but frequently impactful journalism drama

CW: Discussions of sexual assault, rape ahead

2022 has already seen the old-school 2000s romantic-comedy come back to the big screen with films like Ticket to Paradise, while Top Gun: Maverick made movie theaters around the globe seem like they'd been teleported back to 1986. Why not also bring back the journalism drama to the big screen while we're at it? The comeback for the genre that birthed everything from All the President's Men to Spotlight manifests with She Said, which chronicles the true story of how The New York Times cracked the story of Harvey Weinstein's extensive history of being accused of sexual assault, verbal abuse, and rape by countless women.

Our leads for this feature are Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) and Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan), a pair of reporters who have the kind of conviction you need to chase down difficult stories like the Weinstein saga. The whole affair begins through just Kantor poking around in Weinstein's past, an exercise Twohey is initially dubious over doing given how little impact the allegations against Donald Trump impacted his rise to power. However, they both become enamored with this story as they dig deeper and deeper into Weinstein's past. He's impacted so many lives in such unspeakable ways, to the point that many of the people they contact with either can't or won't speak about it on the record. 

Rebecca Lenkiewicz's screenplay for She Said, adapted both from the New York Times investigation and a book entitled She Said penned by the real Kantor and Twohey, is tackling incredibly heavy material and weaves an appropriately morose tone for such a story. The sheer weight of everything these women have had to live with, not to mention the web of power that has kept Weinstein free from consequences, is certainly felt within the story. The most impactful parts of She Said are cognizant of how overwhelming those forces are, the way they creep into everyday life whether we like it or not.

The instance of this that really stuck in my mind is scene where Kantor's Skype call with her adolescent daughter takes a dark turn when her child asks if a story her mom is investigating involves "rape." It's a word her friends use all the time, to which Kantor tries to delicately explain to the youngster that she shouldn't use it casually. With minimal dialogue and Nicholas Britell's score dropping out, Kazan's performance and the script gracefully depict a mother realizing that her daughter is growing increasingly cognizant of all the horrors in society. She's tried to provide a barrier between her home life and all the unspeakably atrocities beyond her front door. Now, she's received a sudden reminder of how omnipresent the normalization of rape culture is. The term "rape" has even become a go-to term in the world of playground chatter. The intrusion of pushy phone calls or sudden reminders of the past in the everyday lives of people who have accused Weinstein of despicable acts convey a similar power. They too are aware of how the darkest parts of reality can creep up anywhere in your life. 

She Said's script is less effective, unfortunately, in terms of its story structure. There's little uniqueness in how Lenkiewicz executes this story to separate it from other similar journalism and the more perfunctory investigative scenes drag in pacing. Director Maria Schrader and cinematographer Natasha Braier don't help things by realizing the look of She Said in a similarly straightforward fashion. Opportunities to get further into the minds of sexual assault survivors through distinctive pieces of camerawork are eschewed in favor of very basic instances of framing and lighting that rarely fluctuates even when Kantor shifts her investigation over to the United Kingdom. The intimate and dark nature of She Said isn't an excuse for these visual shortcomings given that other movies tackling similarly chilling material, such as The Assistant, managed to excel in their camerawork. You don't need to be an expansive epic to have vibrant or thoughtful visuals.

She Said, ultimately, isn't as challenging or defiant of the status quo as either the journalism or the testimonies that inspired it. Even composer Nicholas Britell is in more reserved mode here. But there's enough emotionally raw material and commendable performances to make it a reasonably engaging watch, particularly whenever the script focuses on harrowing recountings of the experiences of sexual assault survivors. It's in their words that She Said finds its most solid footing and the moments that will last with viewers longest. Beyond that, the feature can be a bit boilerplate, but at least She Said has got actors like Zoe Kazan and Patricia Clarkson around to give it a boost of life. Plus, there's no denying how good it is to see a journalism drama back on the big screen again.

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