Starring: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow
Director: Jay Roach
Writer: Charles Randolph
Telling a fictionalized version of the 2016 sexual harassment scandal that brought chairman of Fox News Roger Ailes down, Bombshell lands some punches but misses some swings. With an all-star cast including an almost unrecognizable Charlize Theron as controversial news anchor Megyn Kelly and Nicole Kidman as “Fox and Friends” anchor Gretchen Carlson, to name a few, this film provides some clout.
Bombshell isn’t so much a film about redemption or even a bold statement post the #MeToo movement. It’s a demonstration of the toxic power that festers in establishments like Fox News, giving men like Trump a platform even after you take down a giant like Ailes. Women are expected to wear tight, fitting dresses that show their long legs through plexiglass desks. Being told, “To get ahead, you have to give a little head,” by men like Ailes, who insist it’s no more than just a saying. However, cycles like these don’t just stop at the hands of one man, because sexual harassment at Fox has continued since this story made headlines three years ago.
Our heroines in this story are two white, conservative women who became celebrities under the Fox News limelight, both with ideological baggage and controversy of their own — like Kelly’s ever-famous “Santa is white” rant. What I will give writer Charles Randolph and director Jay Roach is how likable and human they make both women look. You see, this film only has the impact it does if you, as the viewer, forget all that and become invested in our protagonists. They do a good job giving us “white feminism” even though one of them spends the majority of the movie denying that she’s a feminist at all. Goody!
Charlize Theron shines in the role of Megyn Kelly. She’s an actor who doesn’t do things half-assed. Not only does she wear prosthetic eyelids to further transform herself to the Fox News anchor but she also trained with a vocal coach to best emulate Kelly’s tenor sounding voice. She encompasses Kelly perfectly!
In the beginning, Theron, as Kelly, breaks the fourth wall addressing the audience. She goes through the inner workings of the network’s New York office. In a clever, matter-of-fact tone while subtly wearing a patriotic red, white, and blue tight dress that is inappropriately commented on within the first 10 minutes by a male employee, Kelly explains what it’s like working there.
The film doesn’t do this again. Instead, it jumps into the 2016 elections, which are in full swing. Candidate Donald Trump is gaining traction and about to participate in a Republican debate hosted by Fox News. Hours before, Megyn Kelly gets violently ill, and it’s assumed it’s due to a poisoned cup of coffee. Due to her comments and questions towards Trump on his egregious treatment of women, she gains an assortment of haters. Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) warns Kelly that taking on the right-wing power structure has its consequences, especially on their network.
The inclusion of fictional character Kayla Pospisil, played by Margot Robbie, is an interesting touch to the film. She describes herself as an “influencer of the Jesus space” and aspires to become an on-air talent for Fox News. She’s a pretty, Christian millennial with a little bit of an edge. I won’t spoil what that is. But I imagine this was the film’s attempt to add some “diversity” to their cast. However, she quickly learns that being a good conservative isn’t the same thing as being a Fox News employee.
In a very disturbing scene, Roger Ailes interviews Kayla behind the closed doors of his office. At first, he’s gentle, fatherly, and even a good listener to what she has to say. But, of course, he’s also grooming Kayla unbeknownst to her. He talks about what he requires from his employees. Roger throws the word “loyalty” around, but it takes on a completely different meaning in this case.
He tells Kayla to get up and do a spin for him, which is his ritual. It’s a “visual medium” after all, he spouts at her. But then he asks to see her legs and insists she hike up her skirt. When Robbie obeys, he further pushes that she hike it higher and higher still. Robbie lets us in on the agony she’s feeling in this moment. The conflict of knowing this is wrong, but the confusion of doing it to get closer to what she wants to achieve with Ailes on her side. It’s an excruciating scene that you can’t help but watch in horror.
Gretchen Carlson’s story is where the overall plot of the film lies. Fired by Fox for trying to do stories that speak to women, she is also a harassment victim. However, she decides to take action when her lawyers come up with the strategy of suing Roger personally instead of taking on the company as a whole. But the lawsuit won’t stick unless other women come forward. Bombshell shows the enabling office pathology of Fox News during this time and the women who work under it — probably with sexual harassment stories of their own — siding with Roger instead of biting the hand that feeds them. Represented with grim hilarity by such characters as the angry “loyal” soldier Jeanine Pirro (Alanna Ubach) and a brief cameo of Abby Huntsman (Ashley Greene) insisting they are allowed to wear pants.
Bombshell is funny at times and offers quick-witted commentary. With a cast including Allison Janney, Kate McKinnon, Mark Duplass, and Malcolm McDowell, the acting is top-notch. A majority of these characters are playing real people all intertwined in this story, and they do them justice. However, the movie plays it safe. It doesn’t touch on its participation it had with Trump’s campaign or go further inside the Fox News than it needs to.
Overall, Bombshell gets that sexism doesn’t discriminate. It’s an unfortunate prejudice that cuts across history, culture, political affiliation, and doesn’t care if you’re a woman with privilege and pull like Carlson and Kelly. I think it touches on why these two women kept quiet for so long well. I do find the movie does a good job presenting these every-day assaults that women endure to get through the day and their reasonings for staying quiet to further their career.
But Bombshell presents this story as a triumph of women, which it isn’t. Roger Ailes may have been canned, but as Kelly’s closing voice overstates, the Murdochs only put the rights of women above profits temporarily. Considering sexual harassment claims are still coming out from women in the Fox News environment, this film tries to conclude itself in a neat, little package that is a lot darker and seedier than it seems to realize. Sex still sells, women are still being objectified for the sake of ratings, and little has really changed. I think it’s an important story that needed to be told, but to claim it’s a good representation of what #MeToo is all about is sorely mistaken.
Casting of this Film10.0/10
Hollywood White-wash of scandal and characters5.0/10
- Charlize Theron is unrecognizable as Megyn Kelly
- A Sexual Harassment scandal told on the big screen post #metoo
- Margot Robbie's fictional character Kayla
- Funny, quick witted, and dark
- Doesn't address Fox News' impact on Trump's 2016 campaign.
- White "Feminism" at its best
- Tries to sell triumph but misses its mark
- Doesn't address how problematic Carlson and Kelly are themselves.