At The Movies: Women seek to expose ugly truths in She Said, The Wonder

(From left) Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan in She Said. PHOTO: UIP

She Said (NC16)

129 minutes, opens on Thursday

3 stars

The story: In 2017, two reporters from The New York Times published their bombshell scoop on Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual misconduct, igniting the #MeToo movement. This is an account of their tenacious year-long investigation.

She Said wants to be a Spotlight (2015) for female workplace harassment.

German director Maria Schrader, unfortunately, lacks the storytelling flair of that Academy Awards Best Picture, which had so urgently detailed The Boston Globe’s findings of the Catholic Church child abuses. Her solemn dramatisation is plodding.

But investigative journalism is itself a slog – just ask the Pulitzer Prize-winning pair Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor. This adaptation of their 2019 non-fiction bestseller is as such an exact and faithful journalism procedural.

Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan are the screen versions of hard-nosed Twohey and empathetic Kantor respectively, and the movie shows the two young working mothers — stressed yet passionate and determined — pushing past slammed doors and dead ends to track down Weinstein’s Miramax studio sources as well as corroborating documents from over three decades. Shockingly, that was how long Weinstein had been sexually assaulting his female assistants and actresses, including Gwyneth Paltrow.

The same powerful system that protected him intimidated his victims into silence.

It is thanks to Twohey and Kantor that more than 85 of them eventually bravely came forward to put the film industry kingmaker in prison.

Actress Ashley Judd, an early accuser, appears as herself in a distracting bit of fact-fiction conflation. Samantha Morton and Jennifer Ehle, though, are devastating as two other survivors in a uniformly strong cast with Patricia Clarkson and Andre Braugher as the newsroom editors.

Hot take: This worthy biographical drama gives victims of sexual violence a voice – and what the women say is chilling.

The Wonder (NC16)

108 minutes, streaming on Netflix

4 stars

(From left) Florence Pugh and Kila Lord Cassidy in The Wonder. PHOTO: NETFLIX

The story: The magnetic Florence Pugh – most recently seen in the critically mauled thriller Don’t Worry Darling – stars as an English nurse summoned to a village in the 1862 Irish Midlands to observe a miracle.

A local girl (Kila Lord Cassidy) has not eaten for four months, since her 11th birthday, subsisting only on manna from heaven. Is she a fraud?

A brief contemporary prologue gives a hint. “We are nothing without stories,” it says, and The Wonder – directed by Chilean auteur Sebastian Lelio (Gloria, 2013; A Fantastic Woman, 2017) from Emma Donoghue’s 2016 novel of the same name – is this parable on the power of myths, the way people create their own truths to sustain themselves.

Everyone here suffered terrible losses during the Great Irish Famine of a decade earlier. How marvellous to think the blessed can live without food.

Florence Pugh (right) and Tom Burke in The Wonder. PHOTO: NETFLIX

Pugh’s Lib Wright is a widowed battlefield nurse, and she is having none of it. Her rationality antagonises the Catholic community with its notions of martyrdom and atonement. It is rejected by even the council of mutton-chopped elders who had called on her to monitor and authenticate the “Miracle Child”.

Her sole ally is a London reporter, a rakish sceptic, played by Tom Burke.

This unsettling psychological drama sets reason against piety in a bleak, atmospheric landscape of misty moors. The percussive soundtrack is all bell gongs and rustling wind.

With stubborn intelligence and Pugh’s usual emotional candour, Lib cuts through the otherworldliness to seek out the facts. Yes, people need stories, but she knows too that tales upheld unquestioningly can be sophism of fateful consequences.

Hot take: Don’t worry darling. This probing period mystery is a good one.

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