Director Rob Garver first read Pauline Kael’s work as a young person in the 1980s, and he says that the fiery passion with which she wrote about film made a deep impression on him.
“Pauline seemed to love what she did so much more than anyone else,” Garver says. “When I first read her, her voice leapt out at me -- insightful, honest, funny, sometimes infuriating, but above all fun. She felt joy, and that came through. I wanted to make a movie that conveyed all those things, and told the story of a great cultural era through her wonderful eye.”
With this film, Rob wanted to take the excitement that he felt while reading Kael’s work and translate it to the screen.
She was also a woman coming up in the 50s and 60s who battled to become a force in the movie industry and the culture -- and kept her sense of humor through it all. The film details her early self-doubt and her failed attempts to break though.
Kael undisputedly transformed film into an art form in the eyes of the public. As a result of her writing, the pleasant weekend pastime quality of movie-going suddenly became a must-see, do-or-die, high-stakes experience.
For Kael, watching films was a visceral adventure; she responded to them as if they were real events. Her vital spirit, cocksure attitude, fevered instincts, and withering wisecracks leapt off the page and made you laugh. And as Quentin Tarantino once observed, Kael was so on the nose at times that she could sometimes change your mind about a film you may have thought was pretty good.
The story is told largely through Kael’s own words, which are collected from interviews, private letters, and published writing. Sarah Jessica Parker voices Pauline.
“I knew Sarah Jessica would be a good choice for voicing Pauline,” he says. “She has the right combination of earthiness and intelligence that Pauline’s writing had. And she has a great sense of humor, as Pauline did.” Rob says he learned that Pauline’s very last published review in 1991 was of an early Parker film , Steve Martin’s “LA Story.”
"It was my great honor to be asked to participate in Rob Garver's ‘What She Said.’
I was introduced to Ms. Kael's work by my mother, a decades long subscriber to The New Yorker,” says Parker. “To give Pauline Kael voice was not only a great privilege but a very sentimental experience. Ms. Kael is a much deserving and very worthy subject and I hope Mr. Garver's examination of her fascinating life and important contributions to cinema and criticism reach a wide audience."
Her voice is supplemented by interviews with some of America’s most important film talents, including Quentin Tarantino, Paul Schrader, David O. Russell, and Alec Baldwin, as well as fellow critics like Molly Haskell, David Edelstein, and Joe Morgenstern. Whereas some of these people counted themselves among Kael’s friends or found inspiration through her, others took issue with her – a unique tension that the film explores with curiosity.
The film also features never -before-seen home movies of Pauline from the 1950s, dozens of photographs, illustrations, and audio acquired from Kael’s archives, which are housed in the Lilly Library at the University of Indiana, as well as through private collections such as those of her daughter Gina.