A few years ago the whole deck of cards collapsed over sex abuse scandals within the media. The Me Too movement encouraged many women to come forward to express the hidden truths of abuses that occurred in the major media outlets they were employed in. Every major news channel outlet sadly had some sort of abuse that echoed the deplorable behavior of men manipulating women with their power at Fox News. To this date there hasn’t been much accountability in the media: the bosses over at NBC News still hold their positions, and it’s unclear if there was any other accountability with other higher ups in Fox News that were close to Roger Ailes.
Just a few years later, Hollywood is now weighing in with their views about the subject with its satirical condemnation of sexual harassment and Fox News. “Bombshell”, directed by Jay Roach (Austin Powers, Trumbo) and written by Charles Randolph (The Big Short) deliver a commendable film about the rampant sexism, humiliation, and sexual assault the female news reporters endured while working in the toxic environment at Fox News. Roach and Randolph also have a field day with the material, which allows them to use satire and mockery on the outlet they very much hate. Yet, they can’t decide what kind of movie they really want to make with their political inclinations–a satire, a docu-comedy, a procedural, a female empowerment docu-drama? Perhaps all at once, but it feels uneven as it dissolves into SNL territory with many cheap laughs generated from many caricatures and other forms of buffoonery. The end result feels more like fan service for audiences that already hold deep disdain towards the Fox News Channel.
“Bombshell” makes it clear that it’s out to mock and lightly satirize Fox News in the wake of the sexual-abuse scandals that involved lawsuits against Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, both who were released for their unjustifiably crude behaviors. Ailes quickly died just months after his release. By crossing between the real incidents, the film uses some fictional characters and some real characters. The filmmakers are focused on showing the victimized women as having courage; they put their reputations and even career on the line to take down the powerful Ailes and the toxic culture he created in the workplace, but “Bombshell” is too giddy in tone and too partisan in scope to place Ailes’s abuses and depravity in a deeper, more cautionary framework.
The film begins at the Republican Party debate in Cleveland, where Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), the moderator of the debate, drills Donald Trump about his long history of misogyny (there are many incidents where Trump has said demeaning things about women). It is met with reluctance and resistance by Ailes (John Lithgow), along with huge backlash from Trump supporters. Their work relationship appears testy and equally constructive. Meanwhile, Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) is let go from Fox News soon after her show “The Real Story” becomes more in tune with the changing times. Her release causes her to file a sexual harassment case against Ailes for his past behaviors. Meanwhile, Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), a composite character trying to move up in the network, ends up finding herself victimized by Ailes as he pressures and persuades her to twirl and lift her skirt up in his discreet office in a deeply disturbing and uncomfortable scene.
The film ends up having three narratives all rolled into one. Megyn’s story is about the backlash and pressure she gets from Trump supporters and Fox News after pressing Trump with hard questions about his habits. Gretchen’s story is moving forward with the legal settlement in suing Ailes, and Kayla’s story finds her developing a relationship with Jess Carr (Kate McCinnon), a lesbian news reporter who stays in the closet about her sexuality and support for Hillary Clinton (another fictionalized character).
Roach uses the same sort of stylistic trickery seen in “The Big Short” by having characters break the fourth wall and using visual graphs to bring insight to the audience about who the characters are, along with a docudrama cinema verite style that includes handheld and zooms (the style is starting to grow tiresome). But, to Roache’s credit, it feels tamer in comparison to “The Big Short” and even Steven Soderbergh’s dizzying failure of “The Laundromat”, both of which used the same aesthetics. The pacing of the film is breezy as it unfolds in a very entertaining way, and the performance by Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly is indeed astonishing in how she embodies the role. Theron’s transformation and mannerisms are so authentically accurate to Megyn Kelly’s that you often forget that it is Theron playing her. At the end of the day, though, the films snarky approach undermines the seriousness of such important topics. You almost wish the film was in more serious hands and instead echoed the work of Billy Ray (Shattered Glass, Breach) or David Fincher (Zodiac, The Social Network).