Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 23, 2022 9:22 am 
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MARIA SCHRADER: SHE SAID (2022) - NYFF (Spotlight Section)


'Times' Harvey Weinstein investigation story feels flat

A two-woman reportorial team at The New York Times broke the October 2017 story about film producer and distributor Harvey Weinstein's three-decade history of sexual harassment and rape. Weinstein, head of Miramax and his own company, became gthe most notorious example of the abuse of women, particularly in Hollywood, which spearheaded the #MeToo movement that has altered the balance of power of the sexes. She Said is a journalistic procedural film in the manner of All the President's Men or Spotlight. It is an essential story. Unfortunately, it winds up being a more dutiful and less exciting watch by a fair margin than those other films. As the Austin Chronicle review put it, She Said "is a respectful, serious-minded effort that works so hard not to sensationalize the material, it works against its dramatic impact."

This isn't the fault of the core cast of Carey Mulligan as the tough, elegant senior reporter Megan Twohey, Zoe Kazan as her eager, weepy ingenue partner Jodi Kantor, Patricia Clarkson as their suave senior supervisor Rebecca Corbett, or Andre Braugher as Dean Bequet, their forceful, confident boss. Their performances are fine. So are those of the numerous other actors playing secondary roles, especially the key ones of women abused by Weinstein, including one, Ashley Judd, who briefly plays herself.

The story's importance is hard to overstate. Not only was Weinstein a notorious, outrageous case, a flagrant, serial abuser, but he was a really important figure in the world of movies. Some of Mr. Weinstein’s films include Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Pulp Fiction (as well as other Tarantino films) and Good Will Hunting - and many of the notable films of the past thirty years; Forbes lists 81 Oscars his films won. She Said has been praised for not showing Weinstein doing his ugly business, though his modus operandi is frequently described. He had young female assistants. They were often thrilled to have this job, because they wanted a career in the film industry, and it put them close to one of the most famous and powerful figures in movies. It has since emerged, by the way, that Weinstein was as crude, crass, and manipulative in his handling of a lot of the films he distributed, especially Asian ones, as he was with his human victims, ruthlessly cutting and rearranging them sometimes so that they would be more mainstream or sell more tickets, in his belief. One should add that he was a big, physically imposing, ugly man. Sometimes one wishes this movie provided a more vivid sense of his physical presence, his bullying menace.

Weinstein routinely had these young women working for him report to posh hotel rooms he was staying in in New York or abroad. He would come to greet them wearing a bathrobe, force them to sit near him, appear semi-nude or naked, ask them to watch him shower, and persuade them to massage him and otherwise be intimate with him. This sometimes led to forced sexual intercourse. If the young woman fought, protested, or fled in tears, as they often did, he would threaten them to keep them quiet. He or his company paid millions, we learn to buy their silence, having them sign binding agreements never to speak of their experiences even to family members. When they fled from him, these young women were blocked from getting other work, left traumatized and robbed of their career hopes. The damage done was incalculable. Moreover, though this is only mentioned, it's reported that such behavior in some form or other was commonplace in the American movie industry. It's not over, and we can only guess to what extent the exposures and #MeToo have improved male behavior in the film industry and beyond.

Most of the time of She Said is spent following Megan and Jodi, who are shown to be mothers with husbands and children, as they go on numerous trips and make countless phone calls and interviews and known on doors to ferret out who Weinstein's victims were and contacting them and trying to persuade them to speak on the record. They also importantly deal with Weinstein's lawyer and accountant and persuade them to bend. The signature moments are ones in which Megan and Jodi slowly gain confidence, or the happy time when a witness changes her mind and promises to go on record. Endless effort, ultimately tiresome, is spent seeking to find out how many verifiable silence agreements Weinstein there had been and how much was paid out.

The story The Times published is long and detailed. If you read it you understand why the lengthy period of investigation depicted in the movie was necessary. If the movie drags, despite the significance of the subject matter, the causes are twofold. This story is a shocking and important one but it's not as complex as Watergate or sexual abuse among Catholic priests, but instead focuses on the repetitious behavior of a single man. One might contrast François Ozon's 2018 By the Grace of God/Grace à Dieu. By successively entering into the experiences of three very different men who all suffered sexual abuse by priests as boys, the film gives us a sense of exploring a whole range of society. Spotlight follows the work of multiple Boston Globe reporters discovering the abuse of multiple priests.

The other issue with She Said is simply the screenplay and the direction, which are equally flat and uninspired. (See Keith Watson's [url=""]Slant[/url]review.). They make the action seem more repetitious than exciting. She Said winds up feeling dutiful. German director Maria Schrader's 2021 satirical sci-fi movie I'm Your Man was witty, thought-provoking, and enjoyable. She may have been rather out of her element here.

She Said, 129 mins., premiered Oct. 13, 2022 at the New York Film Festival in the Spotlight section, showing at 19 other mostly US and some international festivals listed on IMDb.Metacritic rating 73%. US release in theaters from Nov. 18, 2022.

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