Review: “She Said” hits many familiar beats that its contemporary journalism films do, but it struggles to build its own emotional weight behind one-note characters and a lack of effortless momentum. It’s working a genre difficult to maneuver, and it struggles to pass with flying colors.
We live in a world post-Harvey Weinstein’s initial Hollywood scandal that would open the floodgates for the well-documented and chronicled #MeToo movement that has helped society reckon with years and years of traumatic and gut-wrenching assault cases that were buried and set aside. We also live in a world post- “All the President’s Men” and “Spotlight” (to name a few), and it only felt right that Hollywood would eventually dig into its own depths and portray its own wrongdoings on screen in a way that may help it understand its own pitfalls and mistakes. Maria Schrader’s newest drama “She Said” attempts to tackle this sensitive and detailed story in a way that satisfies its own source material even if it makes for a less-than-exhilarating watch.
And this makes sense. Journalism isn’t always engaging and cinematic. The films listed above are purposefully not cinematic. But they cover up their tight and natural visual styles with scripts that overshadow many of their contemporaries. Unfortunately for “She Said,” there isn’t enough teeth to the screenplay that elevates it above the moderately-well done investigative reporting features that seem to come out in bunches every year.
This may read like searing criticism, but it’s only because I really wanted to enjoy and be taken aback by “She Said.” As someone who finds getting into the weeds about the journalistic process truly fascinating, I couldn’t help but feel like “She Said” was toeing the line between being an honest criticism of its own creator while also being overly self-congratulatory that (after decades) it finally understood its own faults and misgivings that led to the assault of dozens of women.
Tonally, it’s a very fine line to walk across and “She Said” struggles to ever find that balance. It’s not impossible to imagine a standing ovation, “we sure got those bastards!” reaction from a crowd of snickering Hollywood insiders patting themselves on the back for ousting the posterchild for horrendous behavior by studio execs.
But as the film continuously points out, it’s a systematic issue that trickles down from the top – a theme “Spotlight” nails and helped it eventually stay in the lexicon. “She Said” wants to make grander statements beyond one slimy individual, but it never actually goes there. Because it can’t.
It has riveting interactions that bookend the film nicely, but it never cuts deep enough about the system and malpractice operated by its own studio execs for years on end. It is this single conundrum that had me quite worried heading into the film, and only solidified that fear as I struggled to connect with the intent of its own creation.
With all that being said, “She Said” is still incredibly well shot and executed. Its artistic craft is clear and palpable. The location shots of The New York Times building are colorful and engaging, and both Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan blend in with their surroundings quite nicely in performances that are sure to turn some Academy voters’ eyes (again, in an awkward and ironic way, “She Said” feels like perfect Oscars fodder that Harvey Weinstein would’ve clamored over).
The harrowing scenes are truly harrowing, and the satisfying scenes are truly satisfying. It is not a bad watch, per se, but I still struggle to get past a self-congratulatory approach that would justify a studio greenlighting and profiting off this. Oh, the irony.
“She Said” will surely be crowd-pleasing for those that give it the time of day, but there’s a sincerity issue involved with it that held me back from truly connecting that its own emotional crux. It doesn’t quite shine beyond a few graceful lead performances and remarkable settings, but it’s still worth the price of admission.