Directed by: Jay Roach
Written by: Charles Randolph
Starring: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Kate McKinnon
Women can never have it easy in toxic work environments, because everything predicates on having power, which has been held by men since civilization began. The more misogynistic a culture becomes, it becomes even more harmful for the women attempting to succeed in it, much like within Fox News. Bombshell tracks the story of three women and the way they attempt to make their voices heard in a poignant manner but with sloppy delivery.
Taking place following one of the Republican Debates of 2016, Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) faces backlash after one of the presidential candidates comes after her personally. Meanwhile, Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) begins her attack of sexual harassment by CEO Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) and young Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie) learns what it means to go to the second floor. Their paths converge as one of the biggest scandals in cable news history emerges.
The premise and alluring feature of Bombshell began with taking a look inside the monstrous conglomerate of Fox News. The cable news division of a much larger entity, which has taken over the conversation and constantly draws in the largest audiences. Taking a look behind the curtain promised to be entertaining because their tactics are simple, but it milks them so much money in the process. As one character describes, “if it scares your grandmother and angers your grandfather, then it’s a Fox News story.” The playbook is there, but Bombshell seeks to do more than just look at what has made this media player so influential, but rather how a culture of sexual harassment begins at the top and permeates every sphere. At the top of it all is the horrendous and venomous Roger Ailes.
The man behind it all portrayed fairly well by John Lithgow, Ailes, created a culture that excused his abuse of women as simply part of the way it works. Everyone knew what it meant when a pretty girl got sent to the second floor. Nobody speaks up because taking on Roger meant fighting the entire Fox News brand and the people, who drink the Kool-Aid. Questions will arise about every aspect of the accuser’s life in order to diminish every ounce of accountability they may have. This issue certainly was not exclusive to Fox News, but it sure became a horrifying example of just how disgusting a particular culture can become.
The tone of the film jumps back and forth between comedic and incredibly dramatic with the way the filmmakers poke fun at the media conglomerate, but also showing the severity of the abuse. It’s part of where the film loses some of its steam at points. It has those fourth wall breaks where we have Megyn Kelly explaining the culture at Fox News but then will smack you with the scene where Kayla learns what it means to go to the second floor. It makes the decision to have Jay Roach direct the film certainly an interesting one. He has directed other dramatic fare, but his claim to fame are my beloved Austin Powers films, which take absolutely nothing seriously. Certain scenes could have been portrayed in a better way, but he does a decent job carrying the weight of a story of this magnitude.
Much of the talk leading up to the film’s release came from the transformative makeup work done to make Charlize Theron look scarily similar to Megyn Kelly. Certainly not a first for makeup artist Kazu Hiro, who also received praise for making Gary Oldman look like Winston Churchill for Darkest Hour. The look messes with the mind because Theron looks and sounds just like her but our mind knows it’s truly not the former Fox News anchor. Theron and Nicole Kidman, who portrays Gretchen Carlson, put in expectedly solid work, but the one who truly brought their best was Margot Robbie.
She does not portray a real person, but rather a collection of stories formed into one character. Knowing this demonstrates why we get more from this character on an emotional level. She’s a bright-eyed newbie, who wants to do what it takes to make it on screen. She grew up with a family always having Fox News on in the background. Her passion was never to be on television but rather to be on Fox. Kayla becomes the person audiences see get torn down by the culture set by this news organization. The scenes with Ailes are heartbreaking, and Robbie overall annihilated this role. Her scenes of keeping composure through the hard moments and finally breaking demonstrate why it’s Margot Robbie’s world and we’re just living in it.
To no surprise, this film will cause controversy because of the recency of this story. At the writing of this review, it only happened four years ago and the figures involved continue to remain in the public spotlight. Finding an audience may be difficult in such politically polarizing times as conservatives will write it off for being Hollywood fake news and liberals will take offense to some of the moments where these women become perceived victims in realms outside of the sexual abuse. One particular scene with Gretchen Carlson in a grocery store sums it up.
Bombshell is incredibly sloppy and leaned far too much into trying to be like The Big Short at times, but it undoubtedly tells an important story about how one of the most powerful men in the world can be held accountable. It comes with tears and the cost of careers, but it hopefully leads to creating a better world where monsters like Ailes can no longer abuse with impunity. One can hope at least.