eeven if newspapers, in actual paper form, are becoming more rare every year, the nuts and bolts of journalism haven’t changed much in centuries. The work still involves linking to sources, gathering facts and quotes, and packaging the results into clear and concise text. Yet in the great fact-based newspaper films that readily come to mind…All the President’s People Spotlight, The message– largely, if not exclusively, men do this work. Maria Schrader is smart and satisfying She said gives a different meaning to the genre: this is the story of the two New York Times journalists, Megan Toohey and Jodi Cantor, who in 2017 broke the story of Harvey Weinstein’s decade-long history of sexual abusekicking the existing ones #MeToo movement in overdrive. But instead of hard-working men in shirts running around the newsroom, possibly calling home occasionally to check on their wives and children, in She said we see Toohey (here played by Carey Mulligan) at home on maternity leave, battling postpartum depression, and Cantor (Zoe Kazan) thanking her pre-teen daughter for helping to soothe her younger, needier self sister. As reporters, they are tireless. As mothers, they are tired.
That’s what gives She said its believable texture. That, and the fact that despite the explosive impact of this story, She said is just a story about journalists at work. Between these vignettes of Cantor and Toohey at home taking care of their young children (with the help of their understandably supportive partners), we see them making a lot of phone calls, not to mention waiting for callbacks, pretty much the majority of the game . They encounter some sources that are immediate and others that are more subdued. They discuss their ideas with their bosses. (Patricia Clarkson playing a veteran times Editor Rebecca Corbett; Andre Brager is Dean Backe, the paper’s executive editor at the time.) And they hit the pavement, quite literally. Schrader shows them bumping across crosswalks, striding through parking lots, casting sidelong glances at shadowy vehicles that are almost certainly following them. Shoe leather journalism is largely about getting from here to there; sometimes we actually see the soles of these women’s shoes.
(from left) Hiuel Madden (Wesley Holloway), Laura Madden (Jennifer Elle) and Iris Madden (Justin Colan) in She Said, directed by Maria Schrader.
JoJo Whilden/Universal Pictures—© Universal Studios. All rights reserved.
But She said it also shows how much strategy and tact matter in journalism, especially when reporters are dealing with sensitive subjects. The film opens with a striking, silent scene: It’s Ireland in 1992, and a young woman walking along the coast stumbles upon a film set, a sort of period piece featuring 18th-century soldiers and old wooden ships. The woman watches, mesmerized by what she sees, and it is assumed that she somehow finds work in the cinema, fulfilling a dream. There’s a cut and we see her running down the street, distraught, as if she’s being chased. This vivid series lays the groundwork for what is to come: many of these women hold on to their trauma, possibly secretly, for some 25 years. Some have been rewarded for their silence, but that doesn’t erase the wrongdoing that got them out in the first place. It’s the nest of insidious covers Cantor taps into as she initiates a major story about sexual harassment in the workplace. She would later ask Toohey — who had previously attempted a frustrating investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against then-presidential candidate Donald Trump — to join her. Together they start collecting names and asking questions. But they have no idea who will be willing to talk — or whether their story, which other journalists have previously tried and failed to unravel — will ultimately make a difference at all.
Somehow, Schrader makes this uncertainty a palpable presence in the story. She also shows how, despite this anxiety, Twohey and Kantor manage to get their subjects talking. Samantha Morton is amazing as Weinstein’s ex-assistant working in the London office who has seen him bully his boss at his worst, but also recognizes that as appalling as his behavior is, it’s really just part of the story. from a larger systemic problem. Jennifer Elle—as the same girl we’d seen in the film’s opening sequence, now middle-aged—has a superb scene in which she describes to Cantor the abuse she suffered and how she initially felt her own naivety was a problem. Cantor and Toohey define their drive as one of the greater good: if these women tell their stories, maybe they can make things better for other women who come after them. But everyone, including reporters, is aware of the searing facts: these victims had to live with their own shame and anger for years simply because there was he was talking and no one cared.
There are some difficult moments She said, scenes where the two lead actors seem to be declaiming rather than speaking to each other. At one point, the pixie Kantor asks the more glamorous but equally no-nonsense Toohey if she regrets taking the assignment. The question hangs in the air perhaps just before Twohey answers; the movie doesn’t need that kind of manufactured drama. (The screenplay is by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, based on Toohey and Cantor’s account of their investigation, published in 2019.) Most of all, though, Schrader, who also directed the terrific bittersweet romantic comedy I’m your man— maintains smooth gear rotation. In one of the film’s nicest, if lighter, moments, Toohey and Cantor, ready to knock on the doors of some unsuspecting potential sources, have ditched their work dark skirts and trousers in favor of less embarrassing gear: they they laugh when they realize they are both wearing similar white summer dresses and matching sandals. But what they end up accomplishing is serious work. The Twohey and Kantor report clear the way for more Weinstein victims to come forward; in 2020 he was convicted of two felonies, including rape, and is currently serving a 23-year prison sentence. These women achieved a record victory with hard work and a few pieces of luck: the cell phone deliberately left on the restaurant table by a primary source, the well-known actress who decided at the eleventh hour to record her story. That’s how journalism works. And sometimes the little girls waiting for you at home are part of your motivation.
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