‘She Said’ Devastates, Infuriates and Inspires in Equal Measure

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A woman with long brown hair sits on the edge of a desk listening closely as another woman holds up a cell phone for her to listen to. They wear serious expressions.
Carey Mulligan as Megan Twohey and Zoe Kazan as Jodi Kantor in ’She Said.’ (Universal Pictures)

Journalists love movies about journalism. We just do. It’s literally impossible for us not to get excited about them. Spotlight, about The Boston Globe’s exposure of child abuse in the Catholic Church? Brilliant. All the President’s Men about the Watergate scandal? Still watch it once a year. The Post, about the Pentagon Papers? Riveting, of course!

Because journalists love movies about journalism, we have a tendency to give them glowing reviews, without stopping to think about how much non-journalists really want to look at them. When I came home from a She Said preview, full of praise for it, my partner replied, “Yes, but how many scenes are there of people just ... typing?”

The answer to that is — fine, I’ll admit it — quite a few. Because She Said is a dramatization of how The New York Times exposed Harvey Weinstein as a serial sexual predator in 2017. It follows real-life reporters Jodi Kantor (played engagingly by Zoe Kazan) and Megan Twohey (the always brilliant Carey Mulligan) chasing down leads and persuading an ever-growing number of traumatized survivors to talk to them.

That means that yes, there are scenes of journalists typing together and separately. There are scenes of multiple people clustered around a single computer screen reading and re-reading copy to make sure it’s right. There are scenes in which the journalists are legally advised about how to approach the story. There’s even a scene of on-screen copy and pasting. But try and stick with me here, because She Said also works incredibly hard to make sure this isn’t just a movie for journalists. Its pacing is consistently urgent, deftly compressing reams of information into sharp and compelling scenes. It will succeed in surprising even the viewers who think they know this story.

The opening moments — some of the most powerful in all two hours and eight minutes of the film — set the tone early and hammer home exactly what the stakes are. One minute, we’re looking at a young woman joyfully working on her first movie set in Ireland, laughing with co-workers, visibly excited to start her career. Cut to: That same young woman, tears streaming down her face, facial expression of pure terror, running as fast as she can through a deserted street. We know what has happened to her, because we know this is a movie about Harvey Weinstein. Still, the juxtaposition of her before and after is so stark — so raw — I audibly gasped in the theater. It would not be the last time I did so while watching She Said.

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I wondered going in if it was too soon for this story to become a movie. It’s only been five years since Kantor and Twohey published their Weinstein exposé in the Times. It’s been four since they won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for doing so. And it’s been three since their book She Said, which this movie is based on, was released.

However, watching She Said in the current moment — one in which #MeToo’s momentum has been indelibly stunted by the COVID pandemic and other factors — acts as a pertinent reminder. It’s a reminder not just of the careers lost and lives derailed by this powerful man who abused with impunity; it’s also a reminder of the systems that enabled him. It’s a reminder of the structures that continue to enable sexual harassment and abuse everywhere. More than anything, She Said is an inspiring reminder of the collective of women who stood up to Weinstein when he assumed nobody would.

Three of Weinstein’s less famous accusers are depicted by actors as both their 2017 selves and in flashbacks to their younger years when they fell prey to Weinstein. It is these scenes that will most break your heart and infuriate you. (“It was like he took my voice that day,” we hear one despair, “just when I was about to start finding it.”) You’ll also marvel at the inner strength and dogged determination of Kantor and Twohey as they collect Weinstein horror story after Weinstein horror story, unsure if they’ll ever even be able to share them with the public.

Part of She Said’s success lies in the movie’s blending of the real and the recreated. Ashley Judd appears as herself, reenacting the interviews she conducted with Kantor. The now-infamous real audio of Weinstein bullying — and admitting to groping — Ambra Battilana is played over footage of an eerily empty hotel hallway. We don’t see Gwyneth Paltrow or Rose McGowan, but we hear convincing impersonations of them on phone calls. A body double viewed only from behind is used to depict Harvey Weinstein’s visit to The New York Times office, a move recalled as one of his many intimidation tactics. The choice to feature all of these very famous figures primarily off-screen — thereby avoiding the potential for distracting imitations — is a smart one that keeps the narrative on track.

In its promotional materials, She Said has utilized appearances from the real women behind the story. One of them is Laura Madden, the woman depicted in She Said’s devastating opening scenes. “He did this to all these women,” Madden recalls now, “and I felt sad for myself that that young girl had taken the blame for it.” For the women involved, She Said is undoubtedly another step on the path to healing. For everyone else, it is one of this year’s must-see movies.

‘She Said’ opens in theaters on Friday, Nov. 18.