Runtime: 109 Minutes
Director: Jay Roach
Writer: Charles Randolph
Stars: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Allison Janney, Kate McKinnon
By Mique Watson
Sexual harassment can happen to anyone. It can happen to me and you, it can happen to family members, friends, co-workers–anyone. No matter how old you are, no matter what your race is, no matter what your political affiliations or sexuality may be–it doesn’t discriminate. This is “Bombshell“’s approach–this isn’t the conservative-bashing, Fox News takedown you might have expected–(although it does take jabs at some of the absurd things the network puts out), this is far from the SNL parody many of us thought it would be given Hollywood’s blatant interest in coming off as relatable.
This is the story of the women of Fox News who dared to come forward with their respective stories of harassment presented with an appropriate mix of rage and inquisitiveness. It probes and showcases the culture of sexual harassment that has been allowed to prevail within the walls and tiers of the cable television juggernaut’s building. The main perpetrator, Roger Ailes (John Lithgow), may have died in 2017–but what the network stands for, along with its sky-high ratings, has stayed.
Director Jay Roach’s film has three main story lines: the first one follows Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron)–who, at the time, was the most well-known newscaster on Fox. Megyn is a protagonist and antagonist in herself; in how she works for a right-wing, conservative news channel yet can’t seem to find it in herself to support someone as outspoken and controversial as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Early on in the film, we are made privy to just what triggered her infamous feud with le Presidential candidate; during the Republican debate, she had confronted him on past misogynistic comments he’d made about women…this did not end well for her.
The second storyline follows “Fox & Friends” morning show co-host Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) who had filed a lawsuit against Ailes himself. Carlson, the recipient of a myriad of misogynistic comments and innuendos from her “Fox & Friends” co-hosts gets ironically sidelined and her role in the story doesn’t truly manifest itself until the film’s third act.
Screenwriter Charles Randolph is tasked with the difficult mission of making an accessible film about controversial, questionable women–and for the most part, he succeeds.
The third storyline follows the film’s only fictional protagonist, Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), an evangelical millennial (thankfully, this aspect of her life isn’t played for laughs) who starts off as an intern, then ends up working for Bill O’ Riley; her naïveté and affinity for Fox’s alleged trademark “fair and balanced” message are that which motivate her to pursue a career with the network. Despite the horrible things all three of these women endure, it is Kayla’s story which truly raises the film’s emotional stakes. There is a scene at the film’s midpoint wherein Roger demands that she hikes up her skirt to the point of shame, dehumanization, and debasement; he looks at her like she is a piece of meat.
Screenwriter Charles Randolph is tasked with the difficult mission of making an accessible film about controversial, questionable women–and for the most part, he succeeds. His approach is one that humanizes contentious individuals like Kelly and Carlson; one which seeks to understand their motivations and actions on a psychologically and emotionally incisive level. The United States, as it stands today, is a country divided by ideology; for all this talk about fixing the divide, people on both sides are doing oh so little to actually solve this problem.
And this is why the film is so special; it centers itself on people who you may disagree with and acknowledges the humanity in them without completely letting them off the hook (Kelly’s “white Santa & Jesus” comments, along with Carlson’s anti-Socialist remarks are present here as well). All this, and the attachment of undoubtedly talented actors with feminist cred and respectable filmographies helps make the material more palatable.
For all the eerily accurate depictions of famous media/political figures, it is Charlize Theron’s performance which proves to be the film’s highlight. She completely embodies the anchor with dead-on accuracy from the moment we first see her (in an interview Theron did, she said it was actually harder to portray Kelly than it was to portray America’s first female serial killer).
“Bombshell” tells a tale of how neither predators nor victims fit into a box; anyone, no matter who they are, or how they identify, can be capable of harassing/being harassed.
Within ten minutes of the film starting, you actually feel as though you are watching Kelly herself. Theron makes Kelly more sympathetic and accessible despite her unflappable, icy persona; her range as an actress is crystal clear in her ability to be both a no-nonsense lawyer and a caring, nurturing mother. She has incredible chemistry with her husband in the film (Mark Duplass)– their setup is an unconventional one: a conservative nuclear family where the wife is the breadwinner, thus, inevitably leading to insecurity on his part.
Gretchen’s story knocks over the first domino and Kidman plays her sincerely. In one scene she appears on camera with no makeup to make a statement against the objectification of women on the “International Day of the Girl”. Ailes disgustingly confronts her afterwards: “Nobody wants to watch a middle-aged woman sweat her way through menopause.” This verbal abuse happens right in front of devout Christian, Kayla, and provides her with a glimpse of just what she’s gotten herself into. Ailes is depicted as someone awful–despite that, the film acknowledges all the help he had gotted from the women who have helped make him rich and famous.
“Bombshell” features a plethora of on-target performances, like Alanna Ubach’s Jeanine Pirro (I was absolutely living for this depiction of Judge Jeanine–my only complaint is that they should’ve given Ubach more screen time! Each time she is on-screen is a blessing), Allison Janney’s Susan Estrich, and Kevin Dorff’s Bill O’Riley. Kate McKinnon brings some comedic relief as a closeted lesbian and democrat who works as a producer on O’Riley’s primetime show.
“Bombshell,” tells a tale of how neither predators nor victims fit into a box; anyone, no matter who they are, or how they identify, can be capable of harassing/being harassed. It showcases the events which brought each of these women, at first hesitant to speak up, to eventually speak their truths. This isn’t a film which will change anyone’s mind on politics: staunch, conservative viewers of Fox may be slightly put off by Hollywood’s opinion of their favourite news network; conversely, people who can’t stand Fox News’ personalities may be vexed out of their wits by spending nearly 2-hours with these people…but at the end of the day, this is, first and foremost, a film. It ought to best be enjoyed as a piece of fiction, one that humanizes just as much as it warns.