Movie Review ~ She Said

The Facts:

Synopsis: New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor break one of the most important stories in a generation — a story that helped launch the #MeToo movement and shattered decades of silence around the subject of sexual assault in Hollywood.
Stars: Carey Mulligan, Zoe Kazan, Patricia Clarkson, Andre Braugher, Jennifer Ehle, Samantha Morton, Sean Cullen, Angela Yeoh, Ashley Judd
Director: Maria Schrader
Rated: R
Running Length: 129 minutes
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review:  Will we ever know the full impact of the devastation caused by the actions of disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein? It’s not likely because the emotional trauma inflicted and multiple settlements over time have sent a ripple effect throughout Hollywood and beyond. The #MeToo movement may have reached its peak and plateaued (at least for a time), but that doesn’t mean there aren’t more threads to unravel or details to unpack over those that remained complicit throughout the years. We’re living in that post-Weinstein world, and it can be hard to rewind to five years before the story came out. 

The new movie She Said asks audiences to step back and watch as two dedicated journalists used their skill and empathy to topple a titan many (including his victims) thought was untouchable. New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey wrote the book ‘She Said’ is based on in 2019. They then became characters in this movie adaptation written by British playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz. Directed by German actress/director Maria Schrader, it’s got the air of All the President’s Men but is less interested in being a Hollywood version of what journalism looks like and focuses its energy on the stories of the women that were victimized and their truth which had been silenced for decades.

After a bruising experience reporting on the 2016 Presidential election, Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman) took time off to tend to her newborn when colleague Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan, What If) called her. The two knew each other from work, but it was limited to that. While Jodi, with her two daughters, could commiserate with Megan and her struggles with post-partum depression, she wanted to ask Megan how she handled asking women tough questions about abuse. This led to the women working together when Megan returned from maternity leave, investigating the long-standing rumors of sexual abuse between Miramax producer Harvey Weinstein and several women.

Some of these women have familiar names, and some aren’t. All were targets and, ultimately, survivors of Weinstein’s fixation and abuse of power. Through pure old-fashioned journalism (pounding the pavement, consulting historical records, protecting sources, using off-the-record conversations to assist them in finding paths forward when they hit a dead end), the two reporters constructed a well-researched case that painted the producer in precisely the kind of light everyone knew him to be. Until then, he had flexed his considerable reach to have these stories squashed by just picking up the phone. In 2017, after Trump was in the White House and the country was fed up with how the nation’s leader spoke about women, the public started to be unwilling to accept dismissals of lousy behavior between those in power and those who worked for them.

While Miramax was an international company with offices in places like London and Hong Kong, when you think of Weinstein, you think of Hollywood. In many ways, having a British screenwriter and German director helped She Said gain some objectivity in its subject, and that reflects in its perspective shifting. As the book writers, Kantor and Twohey couldn’t help but become characters, but they aren’t the showy roles like Robert Redford, and Dustin Hoffman took on in 1976”s All The President’s Men. That film is dynamite but revolves around a subject quite different than what is being exposed here. There’s no ‘gotcha’ journalism on display because it would betray privacy that was so pivotal. So, while we see the journalists at home, it’s for context rather than moving the story along. You can rest assured there are no scenes with Kantor’s husband complaining that she never is home to cook dinner or Twohey’s chastising her for missing out on a crucial newborn milestone.

The less-flash approach might give the impression She Said is a tad flat, and it does start to coast slightly around the halfway mark. It only becomes clearer later that this is a “just the facts” brand of entertainment, and it’s not that Schrader is purposely holding razzle-dazzle back; it’s that this is how it was, and no elaboration/embellishment is needed. Besides, how can you complain about anything when you have an entire cast full of marvelous performances? Mulligan and Kazan are excellent, as are Patricia Clarkson (The East) and Andre Braugher (The Gambler) as the NYT higher-ups that guide them with a steady hand to keep going.   The consistently excellent (seriously, always) Jennifer Ehle (Saint Maud) plays a pivotal role with grace but keep your eyes peeled for Samantha Morton’s ridiculously terrific work as one of the bolder Weinstein accusers. Morton’s (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) only got one scene, but it’s so ferociously good, she makes taking a sip of water so commanding. I swear I saw our entire audience clutching their sodas, all gulping at the same time she paused to have a drink. 

No amount of time could ever truly capture the details of this piece. I’ve read most of the books published on this scandal/movement and am still stunned by the number of influential people who looked the other way while this was happening. One of them is a producer on this film and while doing this feels like atonement, there is so much more that needs to be done to start to correct these errors in judgment. She Said is a small movie but a mighty one…and one of the year’s best. 

The Silver Bullet ~ The Monster

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Synopsis: A mother and daughter must confront a terrifying monster when they break down on a deserted road.

Release Date: November 11, 2016

Thoughts: After making the nifty home invasion thriller The Strangers in 2008, writer/director Bryan Bertino has kept a fairly low profile.  Though Bertino’s Mockingbird failed to take flight in 2014, the filmmaker hopes to have another sleeper hit in 2016 with The Monster from rising studio A24.  These compact, one-setting creature features are always intriguing to me and as The Shallows showed earlier this year, you don’t need a huge budget or multiple locations to give audiences one good scare after another.  Starring Zoe Kazan (What If), Scott Speedman (The Vow), and what looks to be a nasty beast, I’m getting some nice vibes from this one.  I’m also cancelling any road trips on deserted roads…

The Silver Bullet ~ Our Brand is Crisis

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Synopsis: A feature film based on the documentary “Our Brand Is Crisis”, which focuses on the use of American political campaign strategies in South America.

Release Date: October 30, 2015

Thoughts: Since winning her Oscar for The Blind Side in 2009, Sandra Bullock has chosen her projects cautiously.  Many a Best Actress winner followed up their wins with one or more (coughcoughHalle Berrycoughcough) disappointing outings and Bullock wisely steered clear of making any hasty decisions. She took a supporting role in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, tried playing the straight man in The Heat, and found herself in the Best Actress race again with Gravity. In 2015 she voiced a villain in the animated Minions and she’s closing out the year in an adaptation of the 2005 political documentary Our Brand is Crisis. I have faith in Bullock and producer George Clooney, even if our first look at their collaboration leaves much to be desired.  Maybe it’s because we can’t tell if it’s a high stakes drama or a goofball comedy and it certainly doesn’t help my interest at all that Billy Bob Thornton (Entourage) shows up (teeth first, cueball head second).  Director David Gordon Green has an iffy record in my book but Bullock and good buzz sell it for me…still it’s not at the top of my fall movie list.

Movie Review ~ What If

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Wallace, burned out from a string of failed relationships, forms an instant bond with Chantry, who lives with her longtime boyfriend. Together, they puzzle out what it means if your best friend is also the love of your life.

Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver, Rafe Spall, Megan Park, Mackenzie Davis, Oona Chaplin

Director: Michael Dowse

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 102 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: Though I am appreciative that Daniel Radcliffe (The Woman in Black) continues to push himself out of his Harry Potter comfort zone, I’m less inclined to think of him as a romantic leading man…especially after seeing his awkward effort in the daffy rom-com What If. Points for trying, though.

Radcliffe’s off the mark performance isn’t the only thing wrong with What If, an adaptation of the play Toothpaste and Cigars, but it is the most troublesome in comparison. Romantic comedies live and die by their casting and if you don’t believe in one or both of the leads, the film has an uphill battle to climb. Reminding me more than a little of the breezy charm of (500) Days of Summer, What If tries to capture that same tone but only half makes it…succeeding (like Summer) mostly on the strength of its female players.

As is standard, Radcliffe’s Wallace meets cute with artist Chantry (Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks) at a party thrown by his friend/her cousin Allan (Adam Driver, Lincoln, with his Salvador Dali face). He’s heartbroken and single, she’s sorta happy and dating (Rafe Spall, Prometheus) yet a friendship blossoms. With a dash of trying to buck the When Harry Met Sally… stereotype that men and women can’t be just friends, Wallace and Chantry somehow make it work…until both are honest with themselves to see that there may be something there.

There’s a good nugget of a film here and I honestly think if Radcliffe and Driver had switched roles the film would have been better for it. Not that I’m a fan of Driver at all, he’s essentially playing the same obnoxious character from Girls, but at least he’d have been able to make Elan Mastai’s script hum along better than Radcliffe’s forced conversational approach.

As it is, Radcliffe is lucky that he’s paired with Kazan. Though I haven’t seen her in much, I was struck by how perfectly cast she was for the role. Showing that flawed and vulnerable doesn’t equate to weak, Kazan makes the character charming and offbeat enough in that twee sort of way that isn’t aggravating but earnestly winsome. She saves the film every chance she gets.

As Chantry’s sister, Megan Park is a nice dose of comedic relief and Mackenzie Davis (That Awkward Moment) actually convinces us that Driver is appealing as the yin to his yucky yang. Spall gets the raw end of the deal playing the boyfriend with an arc that reads like a laundry list of bad boyfriend clichés (jealous, manipulative, etc)…it’s so much more interesting if the girl isn’t choosing between a louse and a Lancelot, right?

Another thing to note is that though the film has a playful edge as evidenced in a nice opening and closing animated sequence, it’s obsessed with toilet humor in a way that becomes unnerving. With its multiple references to excrement in various forms and textures, I half wondered if the original title wasn’t Everyone Poops.

Best, ahem, digested with an at-home viewing, What If is a pleasant flick to be sure but is unfortunately hampered by a miscast lead, an obnoxious supporting character, and fecal humor more suited for an Adam Sandler film. Will leave you asking “What if this was a better movie?”