The story of the women from Fox News who stood up to and took down powerful CEO Roger Ailes is one worthy to be told. These women not only exposed Ailes’ abusive conduct towards them, but they also put a spotlight on workplace sexual harassment particularly in the world of television media. And if there is one thing we’ve learned since it’s that this industry-wide problem needed to be uncovered.
“Bombshell” (one of the most overused words in America’s current political landscape) sets out to tell the story of three woman (two real and one fictional) and their roles in bringing down Ailes. They are prime-time anchor Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), morning show host Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), and young producer/aspiring anchor Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie).
Ever since seeing the first full trailer I’ve had a lingering question: Was this going to be an empowering expose on sexual harassment or a Fox News hit-piece? “Bombshell” ends up somewhere in the middle which is frustrating. Too much time is wasted on frivolous pop-shots with no bite whatsoever. Take the seemingly endless parade of impersonations. Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Geraldo Rivera, Neil Cavuto, the list goes on and on. It results in these constant cartoonish diversions from what should be the real focus of the story.
This gets to my biggest beef: the movie is too interested in superfluous things to really dig below its rather familiar surface. It seems content to simply touch on the things we already know instead of pulling back the curtain to reveal something new and insightful. It’s a shame because the inspirational story of women rising up against a corporate media powerhouse like Ailes deserves more than a few strokes from a broad brush.
Despite being the catalyst for the case against Ailes, we get to a point where Kidman’s Gretchen Carlson is more or less tossed to the back burner. Instead the film mostly focuses on Megyn Kelly as she wrestles with stepping out and giving some big-named support to Carlson’s claims. It’s uncanny how much Theron looks the part but her voice-work is a little more inconsistent. Sometimes you think it’s actually Kelly speaking while other times Theron sounds like she’s doing an impression with a head cold.
A lot of time is also spent with Margot Robbie’s Kayla, a fictional/composite character who could best be described as a naive, sexually confused, Christian conservative (how’s that for covering all of your bases) who has long dreamed of working at Fox News. She becomes buddies with Kate McKinnon’s Jess, another fictional addition who has a deep, dark secret: she’s a closet Hillary Clinton supporter. Okay, so she actually has a bigger secret but it feels completely tacked-on and it’s used in the shallowest of ways.
Of course everyone answers to Roger Ailes who basically pulls all the strings and has a direct line to every control room in the building. He’s played by an entertaining John Lithgow who is full of bile and bluster. But for the most part he’s a fairly one-note character with teases of complexity but not much more. It’s another side effect of the movie’s compulsion to put its focus elsewhere instead of digging into its key characters.
The scattershot script is from Charles Randolph who co-wrote “The Big Short”. Here he and director Jay Roach recycle a lot of the visual pomp and style from that film and others like it: snappy narration, breaking the fourth wall, and so on. It’s an approach that simply doesn’t feel fresh anymore and it makes it even tougher to take the film seriously. Sometimes a movie is better off without all of the extra flash. Especially with a subject like this that deserves the extra attention.
Instead we get 15 to 20 minutes on Donald Trump and his Twitter squabble with Kelly during the 2016 presidential primaries. We get a one-dimensional, undercooked fictional character who is given considerably more time than the woman who actually jump-started the whole thing. And of course there is the steady procession of performers appearing as Fox personalities whether they have anything meaningful to offer the story or not.
So we end up with a frustrating movie that certainly sees itself as empowering while at the same time giving the real women who fought this fight the surface-level treatment. Would a female writer/director team have served this story better? Possibly. Maybe they would have spent more time digging into the real story and more importantly exploring the women who made the story so important and worth telling.
VERDICT – 2 STARS