The title of this film, at least for me, immediately evoked one of the internet’s favorite running jokes popularized by Steve Carell’s character Michael Scott from the American sitcom “The Office” – That’s what she said! Then, upon learning the film was premised on exploring the trauma of a rape survivor, I felt a bit guilty for that association. Now having watched the film, and finding it to be far more comedic in tone and celebratory of millennial humor than I would have expected, I can’t help but wonder if that was somewhat intentional. This is probably a decent metaphor for my feelings about this film. What She Said left me feeling confused, surprised, and altogether not quite sure what to make of it.
Sam (Jenny Lester) has secluded herself at the family cabin under the premise that she needs to crack down on completing her upcoming Ph.D. dissertation. However, her friends and family are concerned this is her way of avoiding the reality of the pending trial against the man who raped her on the night of her friend’s engagement party. On the eve of Thanksgiving her concerned brother Eli (Britt Michael Gordon) drives up to the cabin and confronts her. Sam tells Eli that she’s going to drop the charges and the two have an argument. The next morning Sam finds that Eli has summoned a group of her closest friends to stage an intervention on the matter.
Despite the heavy subject matter, What She Said is mostly an understated comedy and seems to be a movie about millennial life almost as much as it is about rape trauma. Sam’s circle of friends consists mostly of stereotypes. We have the over-the-top progressive feminist, the gay best friend, and the hot-headed mansplaining brother. To suggest these are stereotypes isn’t to trivialize the diversity because the film definitely leans into millennial caricatures as the source of its humor. At one point everyone pulls out their cell phones to take pictures of their food before sitting down to Thanksgiving (or the more politically correct Friends-giving) dinner. The humor isn’t quite mocking millennial culture. I believe the idea is to celebrate it while having a little fun. However, it comes at the expense of any of these characters (other than Sam) feeling genuine. The acting isn’t great, and everyone has their token vice that gets hashed out in painfully scripted prime-time dialogue. If it wasn’t for the weight of the central story carrying this film, I think it would be entirely forgettable.
Yet, despite all its flaws, the film still manages not to trivialize its subject matter. Sam is an interesting, relatable, and well-developed character. The journey we take as she’s figuring out how to confront and deal with her trauma (while figuring out how to deal with those telling her how she should confront and deal with her trauma) is deeply meaningful. It offers tremendous insight into the mind of someone that hopefully most can’t relate to but sadly too many can. Hearing her speak to the psychological toll and estrangement with her own body articulated the experience in a way that did broaden my perspective and that alone is invaluable. I like the tongue-in-cheek way she navigates her intrusive yet well-meaning friends. It effectively highlights the enormous pressure we place on those already going through hell, but in a playful manner that keeps the narrative from becoming too heavy-handed.
Thus, I’m left with mixed feelings about this film. The core of what it’s supposed to be is done well enough to drive home a very important message. I’m sure there are many who will relate to it deeply and for the rest of us, it offers insights we should embrace. The casualness and lighthearted tone do succeed at complementing the gravity of the subject matter and I like the overall idea to make a film with such a heavy narrative in that general direction. However, too much of it just isn’t done very well. The millennial-ness is overbearing and gives What She Said too much of a teenage drama/sitcom vibe. We get to see Sam confront very well depicted trauma but not in a very well depicted world. She interacts with caricatures flatly written to fit the roles they need to play, and while that doesn’t subtract from the message, it does subtract from the movie. Ultimately, What She Said is a valuable movie, just not a very good one.
About What She Said
Synopsis: Having learned she intends to drop the charges against her rapist, Sam’s friends decide to invade her seclusion and stage an intervention over Thanksgiving.
Director: Amy Northup
Writer: Jenny Lester
Stars: Jenny Lester, Juliana Jurenas, Britt Michael Gordon, Peter Evangelista, Jarielle Uter, Christopher Mychael Watson, Lucas Calzada, Vaishnavi Sharma, Nancy Bach, Aida Leguizamon
Rated: Not Rated
Run time: 1 Hour, 39 Minutes
I am an ASU honors graduate with bachelors in Political Science and Philosophy. I work as a Paralegal by day and enjoy casual, volunteer, and sometimes freelance writing on the side. I'm a long time movie buff and avid gamer. Collectible card and board games are my specialty. I also remain actively engaged in the world of politics and like to stay up to date on all things science. If there is one goal I have in life it is to never stop learning.