I love films because they provide an opportunity to experience other cultures, other parts of the world, differing opinions, historical events, and more in a compact period of time. This year alone, I “traveled” to a South Korean suburb, to a 19th century New England coastline, into outer space with Brad Pitt, inside the mind of a Hitler Youth, to a Manhattan rooftop with JLo, to a Chinese household with Awkwafina, and to an alternate universe where I fell in love with Sharon Tate all over again. Man am I tired…and invigorated…and…um…tired! Mostly, however, I’m enriched by the opportunity to go to so many places.
Consider my excitement when I had the chance to take a peek behind the closed doors of one the most conservative establishments in the world, Fox News. Tracing the scandal which erupted after its head, Roger Ailes, was accused of sexually harassing multiple women, Bombshell provides a rare chance for liberal Hollywood to dip its toes into a different world view. Despite mixed results, the film proves highly entertaining while also feeling a little icky to this left leaning critic.
Featuring three powerhouse leads in Charlize Theron, who literally becomes Megan Kelly, Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson, and Margot Robbie as a fictional composite character named Kayla, the film, directed by Jay Roach (Game Change) and written by Charles Randolph (The Big Short), splits itself into three to tell their specific sexual harassment experiences involving John Lithgow’s booming, towering portrayal of Ailes. As such, the story lacks one clear protagonist, but with a pace so speedy, writing so clever, a premise so charged, and performances so energizing, I ultimately didn’t care.
Unfortunately, it all emanates from a liberal point of view. When it comes to politics, Hollywood most often can’t help but distance itself from anything that reeks of Republicanism. It’s a way of saying, “Hey, we know they’re the cesspool of all things evil and wrong with the world today”. Whether you agree with that statement or not, the issue of sexual harassment transcends the political spectrum. As such, I applaud that Bombshell enters the discussion from a fresh perspective. For the most part, it honors the people it portrays but can’t help itself in taking jabs nonetheless. I would have preferred a “just the facts” presentation, but I suppose it’s hard to resist when a news organization that calls itself “fair and balanced” proves time and again that it’s not.
Despite this fundamental issue, the film blazes away like a stiff-collared Broadcast News, and I wanted it to last much longer. Robbie’s Kayla finds herself on an upward trajectory at Fox. She quickly befriends Kate McKinnon’s Jess, a lesbian liberal who hides in plain sight as a Fox News producer. It’s through McKinnon’s character that the film gets to take its biggest jabs, and despite the obviousness of it, McKinnon gives a vibrant, hilarious performance. Same goes for such standouts as Alanna Ubach, a dead ringer for Jeanine Pirro, Allison Janney as Susan Estrich, and Richard Kind as Rudy Giuliani, but it’s the work of our three stars who elevate this film.
Theron, no stranger to transformative roles, does it again here. She may have had some help with well-placed prosthetics, but her voice, her command, and confidence really stand out as she struts around the newsroom plotting the resistance against Ailes. Robbie has the biggest arc as the Christian fundamentalist newbie who tears your heart out in her big scene with Ailes. It’s creepy, gross, so wrong and something no woman should ever have to experience. Robbie’s such a gifted actor, she crackles and sparks with everybody. Kidman may have the least challenging role of the three, but I would never underestimate her power to draw you in and feel the pressures and indignities of her character’s job. Kidman’s Carlson is also the catalyst of the story with her lawsuit against Ailes. A shame the three rarely share the screen in the film, because the big highlight features the three of them in a wordless elevator scene which proves to be a masterclass in body language and side-eyes.
Roach and Randolph give us a slick, firing-on-all-cylinders approach, immersing us into this world where breathing room has no place. I hate to say it, but it’s a fun film about a terrible problem. I felt such compassion for people I have often over-simplified in my mind. I would have liked to know more about our main characters’ political leanings and seen it presented with as much conviction as we’d get with a deep dive into the rooms at CNN, but this Hollywood version wants to have its cake and eat it, too. I say, stop eating and just let me have a look at that cake, ok?
GAY SCALE: For each review, I’ll rate the film on my 50 SHADES OF GAY SCALE to let you know how far it tips in our favor. Bombshell gets a 20 out of 50. Kate McKinnon’s queer infiltrator at the network provides some of the movie’s sapphic energy blasts, offering a heretofore unseen perspective on the ultra conservative world of Fox News. Despite the inherent flaw, it’s a pleasure having a female-on-female gaze in a film filled with such strong women.
By Glenn Gaylord
Bombshell opens in the U.S. on December 13th 2019.