Dan's Review: Partisan Polarity Shrouds Deeper Issues of "Bombshell"Dec 19, 2019 09:10AM ● By Dan Metcalf
Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron, and Margot Robbie in Bombshell - © 2019 Lionsgate.
Rated R for sexual material and language throughout.
Starring Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton, Mark Duplass, Rob Delaney, Malcolm McDowell, Allison Janney, Alice Eve, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Liv Hewson, Alanna Ubach, Elisabeth Röhm, Spencer Garrett, Ashley Greene, Brooke Smith, Michael Buie, Nazanin Boniadi, Bree Condon, Ahna O'Reilly, Stephen Root, Madeline Zima, P. J. Byrne, Andy Buckley, Ben Lawson, Josh Lawson, Doc Farrow, Robin Weigert, Marc Evan Jackson, Richard Kind, Holland Taylor, D'Arcy Carden, Tricia Helfer, Jennifer Morrison.
Written by Charles Randolph.
Directed by Jay Roach.
The “MeToo” movement has left its mark on every part of the world by now. No community, no business, no political party, and no institution is immune to its effects as social customs, legal standards, and cultural norms have been altered by unprecedented degrees. Before the news of Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, and their enablers became common knowledge, such tawdry and horrific experiences used to be treated as anomalies, shielded from the public eye. Perhaps we always suspected such things have happened behind closed doors, but didn’t want to know, fearful that the reputation of someone or something we admired might be tarnished, and it was easier to believe our own myths than face reality. In so doing, perhaps we have enjoined ourselves with the enablers as well, and even more selective in our outrage whenever the scandal involves someone who aligns with our ideological or political beliefs. Nothing is more polarizing than politics these days, as tribal masses gravitate to their own echo chambers for false comfort and blind reassurance. But these echo chambers are not immune to the “Me Too” moment, as powerful figures have fallen from grace in what seems like an instant. One of these powerful men was Roger Ailes, the mastermind behind the Fox News channel. The events of his dismissal are the source of Bombshell, a new film in theaters this weekend.
Charlize Theron stars as Megyn Kelly, who up until 2016 hosted one of the top-rated shows on Fox News. Kelly’s barbs with then-candidate Donald Trump garners even more attention as the 2016 campaign progresses and Trump emerges as the Republican nominee. As Kelly’s star rises, her co-worker Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) finds herself at odds with Ailes (John Lithgow), being moved to less-than-desirable time slots and lower ratings. Meanwhile, “Kayla,” (Margot Robbie) a fictional composite character and one of Gretchen’s producers gets a promotion to work on Bill O’Reilly’s top-rated show, while engaging in a lesbian affair with a co-worker (Kate McKinnon). Kayla also aspires to be a Fox News host/anchor and uses her beauty and charm to procure a private meeting with Ailes in his office. She soon discovers that Roger uses inappropriate means to “audition” female talent. At the same time, Carlson is fired but doesn’t leave quietly, suing Ailes for sexual harassment. As she makes her case against Ailes, all eyes turn to Megyn, who seems to wield the most power among the women at Fox. Will she support her colleague? Did Roger harass her too? She, along with other women at Fox must decide whether to accept the power, fame, and riches gained from being on Roger’s good side or to speak up.
Not knowing all the facts behind the fall of Ailes and the inner workings of Fox News, it’s difficult to separate fact from fiction in Bombshell. While it’s true that Ailes was bought out from his lucrative contract by Rupert Murdoch (Malcolm McDowell) over the Carlson suit and other harassment allegations, a lot of dialogue in Bombshell is contrived from the imagination of screenwriter Charles Randolph, taken from anonymous sources (there is a “wink-wink” moment in which Carlson accepts a multi-million dollar settlement under the restriction of keeping “officially” silent). Randolph and Director Jay Roach took a safe approach by avoiding scenes of actual harassment, other than one involving a fictional character (Robbie). While I applaud their restraint, I also wonder if they weren’t compelled to avoid anything that might reveal their sources who have been sworn to settlement deals.
That said, anyone who hates Fox News will probably experience some sort of schadenfreude upon seeing the demise of Ailes and his lot on the big screen. I don’t think it’s an accident that the first “Me Too” feature film involved the conservative side’s failings, just as I’m sure we’ll probably never see a major studio release anything about the fall of Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer or Les Moonves, not to mention equal treatment for accusations against Bill Clinton. Some may read this and accuse me of “both sides-ism,” but nothing could be further from the truth. Either you condemn sexual harassment, or you don’t – simple as that. The political leaning of the accused or the accusers should not matter. If it’s wrong, it should be exposed, prosecuted and the perpetrators brought to justice, while the victims are given whatever measure of closure they deserve. By the same token, I feel that many will see Bombshell and feel more glee for the fall of their rivals than any empathy for the victims of harassment. I sense that conservative Fox News fans will stay away from the box office in droves, while leftists and progressives will sing its praises for all the wrong reasons. Case in point, I have heard the women of Fox News referred to as “bimbos” on many occasions, making me wonder if their standing as human beings is predicated solely by political affiliation. Such references also trigger notions of “getting what they deserved” or “asking for it.”
All politics and polarity aside, Bombshell deserves praise for the performance of the main characters, especially Theron for her perfect portrayal (an eerie resemblance) of Megyn Kelly. Kidman is also brilliant, playing a woman who is much smarter than her reputation as a ditzy, blonde Fox News host may have projected. While their performances and the clever dialogue are worthy of note, I wonder if the quality of the filmmaking will be overshadowed by the polemic nature of the times.