A song from Matilda the Musical kept running through my head as I watched this by turns distressing and laugh-out-loud-funny thriller. “Even if you’re little you can do a lot...” it goes. “If you sit around and let them get on top, you might as well be saying you think that’s okay... and if it’s not right, you have to put it right.”
In She Said, New York Times’ journalists Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) are investigating the horrific crimes of Harvey Weinstein. The real life Kantor and Twohey, with a lot of help, eventually succeeded in bringing down one of Hollywood’s biggest bullies; and they did so because they were smart and tenacious, but also because the Miramax supremo was so in love with his own size and strength.
Mulligan is terrific as a reporter all too aware of her flaws and frailty. Twohey’s struggle with post-natal depression, in the first part of the film, is agonising, precisely because she’s so determined to play down her pain. But it’s the way the character reacts to a bar-room flirt, and later Weinstein himself, when they meet in the offices of The New York Times, that knocks your jaw sideways.
She explodes at the aggressive flirt. She gazes, speechless, at Weinstein. Not because she’s intimidated but because it’s been such a long battle and she knows, in her gut, that she’s won. Snarling rage, and serene stupefaction; Mulligan nails both and if there’s any justice, will soon be in the running for best actress prizes at the Baftas and the Oscars.
There are three other fabulous turns. Ashley Judd appears as herself, the first of Weinstein’s victims to go on the record for the NYT article, while Jennifer Ehle and Samantha Morton (in real life, one of the first actresses to discuss his outrageous behaviour with the press) are Laura and Zelda, two of his assistants.
It’s somehow perfect that Morton’s character is played in flashback by Molly Windsor, the wonderful star of Morton’s semi-autobiographical directing debut, The Unloved. If you’ve seen that film, you’ll know that Morton witnessed abusive individuals getting away with murder long before she arrived in LA. She and Windsor have faces that are the very definition of eloquent. It’s hard to watch them without choking up.
Patricia Clarkson as Rebecca Corbett, the editor who has Megan and Jodi’s backs throughout, also deserves mention. Imagine The Devil Wears Prada’s elegant and mega-powerful Miranda Priestly, but KIND. I would love to tell budding journalists that the business is full of figures like Rebecca. But - sob! - I would be lying.
She Said mostly follows the best-selling book Twohey and Kantor wrote in 2019, and it occasionally drags. Director Maria Schrader seems slightly inhibited by the task at hand; her visuals are diligent rather than inspired, and she relies too heavily on reaction shots - one imagines her saying to Kazan, “I’m so sorry, Zoe, but could you look moved to tears AGAIN?” I can’t help wondering what Promising Young Woman’s director-writer, Emerald Fennell, would have done with this material.
But She Said remains a marvel. It’s not smug or preachy and gives space to the non-glamorous figures, many of them men, who helped Twohey and Kantor in their quest. You expect to see the real people these figures are based on at the end of the movie. But we don’t, presumably because, even though Weinstein is now in jail, these people still fear reprisals. Or maybe cast and crew felt such a climax would smack of triumphalism.
Twohey, at the start of the movie, is following leads concerning one Donald Trump. Weinstein’s downfall, and the birth of the #MeToo movement, have changed a lot across Hollywood, but few feminists would look at the world and think, “Yep, our work is done.”
She Said knows that and asks us to giggle anyway. Weinstein, in the movie, is desperate to know if Gwyneth Paltrow will appear in the NYT piece. He only cares what she said; the other whistleblowers don’t count. How wrong he is. From first to last, this big bear of a man underestimated ‘little’ women.
135mins, cert 15
In cinemas from November 25