Review: ‘She Said’ casts Mulligan, Kazan as #MeToo era’s Woodward and Bernstein

WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews 'She Said'

In October 2017, the #MeToo movement ignited from the spark of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, when the Miramax founder was accused of raping and sexually assaulting 80 women over a span of 30 years as the most monstrous bully gatekeeper in all of Hollywood.

This Friday, “She Said” hits streaming on Peacock after a tepid November release in theaters, earning back just $12 million of its $32 million budget in an era where superhero spectacles swallow adult dramas. It’s proof that a film’s success should not be measured solely by box office as “She Said” has something powerful to say about the world today.

Just as the movie masterpiece “All the Presidents Men” (1976) was based on the 1974 book by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, “She Said” is based on the 2019 book by New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, who pound the pavement gathering sources and trying to convince victims to go on record.

Carey Mulligan carries clout as Twohey, fresh off an Oscar nomination as a #MeToo vigilante in “Promising Young Woman” (2020). “She Said” likely won’t win her the gold, but anyone who’s seen “An Education” (2009), “Drive” (2011), “Shame” (2011), “Inside Llewyn Davis” (2013) or “Mudbound” (2017) knows her skill, seen here in mother-daughter scenes.

Likewise, Zoe Kazan is inspired casting as Kantor. Her grandfather Elia Kazan directed Marlon Brando in “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951) and “On the Waterfront” (1954), but the brutish Stanley Kowalski no longer flies for Zoe, who found love in a coma in “The Big Sick” (2017) without the #MeToo coma nurse of Pedro Almodovar’s “Talk to Her” (2002).

Together, Mulligan and Kazan form a formidable investigative duo following in the gumshoe footsteps of Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman’s Woodward and Bernstein. Their Ben Bradlee editor is Dean Baquet (Andre Braugher, “Homicide: Life on the Street”), insisting that they button-up loose ends before printing anything, knowing these revelations will be explosive.

Still, the performances that really stick out are those of the victims: Samantha Morton as Zelda Perkins, Patricia Clarkson as Rebecca Corbett, Angela Yeoh as Rowena Chiu and Jennifer Ehle as Laura Madden. “Succession” star Peter Friedman is also great as Weinstein’s lawyer Lanny Davis, who acknowledges wrongdoing but can’t divulge the NDAs.

The mystery is doled out by British playwright turned screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz, who wrote Paweł Pawlikowski’s Polish masterpiece “Ida” (2013). The hush-hush secrets gradually unravel, starting with claims by Rose McGowan, followed by Ashley Judd and Gwyneth Paltrow, who are hesitant to go on record and initially ask to remain anonymous.

It’s odd that some of these big-named stars play themselves (Judd) but others are played by different actors (Keilly McQuail as McGowan), while Paltrow provides voice overs for a stunt double. While this approach is inherently inconsistent, critics should allow grace considering it must be hard for victims to come forward and play themselves on screen.

Director Maria Schrader of the Netflix miniseries “Unorthodox” (2020) isn’t going for flashy camera moves, jarring angles or rapid cuts. This is a straight-ahead journalism procedural like Tom McCarthy’s masterpiece “Spotlight” (2015), featuring a muted palette, static hallway shots and a somber tone befitting of the serious subject matter at hand.

I doubt that “She Said” will win Best Picture like “Spotlight,” which masterfully chronicled The Boston Globe’s reporting on the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal. However, I would love to see “She Said” at least nominated for Best Picture and a few acting prizes.

While “All the President’s Men” screened after Nixon resigned over Watergate, “She Said” arrives with the 70-year-old Weinstein already in prison with more charges pending. In both cases, audiences already know the ending, but the films remain riveting, the latter helping female viewers heal and male viewers learn the dangers of a male-gaze industry.

4.5 stars

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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