SHE SAID (2022)

November 18, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Allow me to open with how I fully support the idea of telling (and re-telling) these stories and exposing those behind the many instances of intimidation and abuse that occurs in and around the workplace. Newspaper articles, magazine articles, TV shows, podcasts, books, and movies all find an audience and help educate and enlighten those who might become more attuned to the topic. So, even though most everyone knows the saga of movie mogul and chronic abuser Harvey Weinstein, there is a place for director Maria Schrader’s (I’M YOUR MAN, 2021) film … even as an imprisoned Weinstein continues to face additional charges in various states. Rebecca Lenkiewicz (IDA, 2013) adapted the screenplay from the 2019 book by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey; a book based on their New York Times investigation and series.

Carey Mulligan stars as Megan Twohey, and Zoe Kazan as Jodi Kantor. Twohey is the more veteran and hardline of the two, while Kantor is more sensitive and keyed into the feelings of the victims. We see Twohey working on a Trump story prior to the 2016 election, but Schrader’s film mostly revolves around these two hard-working and focused women researching the Weinstein story, while also making sure we understand the added pressures of being working and career-minded mothers of young children. Some scenes are even shot within the actual New York Times offices, and of course, we get the obligatory exterior building shots as well.

One of the biggest takeaways from this is the continuous challenges reporters face when trying to get sources to go on the record for a sensitive story. Added complexity here comes in the form of Non-Disclosure Agreements, settlements, and hush money. In fact, much of the screen time involves the reporters trying to talk to people who aren’t legally allowed to talk, and to verify just how many instances of “settlements” occurred involving Harvey Weinstein.

Supporting roles are covered by Patricia Clarkson as Rebecca Corbett, Andre Braugher as Dean Baquet, Jennifer Ehle as Laura Madden, Samantha Morton as Zelda Perkins (a terrific scene), and Ashley Judd, who plays herself – the one who kicked this into the headlines. We get the feeling the filmmakers hoped this would be a modern day ALL THE PRESIDENTS’ MEN (1976), though it has more in common with SPOTLIGHT (2015). Where this film struggles is that most of us know the story so there are no ‘aha’ moments, and the best parts are the interviews with those playing the victims … and there simply aren’t enough of those moments. Instead, we see a lot of reporters on the way to investigate, or preparing to report, or taking notes … but the real crux of the story eludes us and we are left wondering if this movie is strong enough given the real life impact of Twohey and Kantor. Kudos to Schrader for never showing Weinstein’s face, but instead focusing on the women.

Opens in theaters November 18, 2022

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I’M YOUR MAN (2021, Germany)

February 9, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. The thing about humans is that we are always looking towards the future to see how we can make things easier, better, or more exciting. This is often with an eye towards more fuel-efficient cars, smaller and more powerful computers, and more effective medical treatments. Writer-director Maria Schrader and co-writer Jan Schomburg have adapted the short story from Emma Braslavsky and turn the lens to relationships and love. Is it possible to advance inter-personal relations to the point of perfection? Would that even be desirable or preferable to the messiness that’s gone on since the beginning of time?

It’s actually the film’s premise that impresses most. Maren Eggert stars as Alma, an Anthropologist who has dedicated years of her life to leading a team documenting the earliest human use of poetry. Alma is a serious and determined woman, and one who bears the scars of a recent breakup. She’s drawn into an extraordinary experiment that blends high-tech with sociology. Advanced robots have been developed to become the “perfect” mate, and are programmed specifically for one person. Alma has agreed to the three-week trial, and her robot is Tom (played well by Dan Stevens, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, 2017).

Their initial interactions are quite awkward as Alma is skeptical and Tom is programmed to constantly and quickly learn and evolve based on Alma’s reactions. Despite Alma’s hope for companionship and recognition of her own biological clock, she seems to catch herself anytime she begins to feel a bit of joy. She never imagined that her pursuit of happiness would be dependent on advanced robotics. To monitor the progress, the program’s director, played by Sandra Huller (TONI ERDMANN, 2016) periodically checks in. And yes, she holds her own secrets.

This is a clever film that delves a bit deeper into human emotions than we originally anticipate. It also contains quite a bit of humor – the initial dance club introductions are pretty funny, as is Tom’s facial expression each time he’s tweaking his algorithms. We do learn flirting is “difficult to program”, although in today’s society, that’s a treacherous path anyway. Of course, Alma slowly comes around to the idea of an artificial relationship – one that by definition can never be real. The film is not at the level of EX MACHINA (2014), although it’s less about technological advances and more about self-realization. Ms. Schrader’s film is plenty entertaining to watch and one that slyly points out many flaws of us human beings, while delivering an unexpected ending.

Available for streaming on multiple platforms

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