When Fox News CEO Roger Ailes died in the spring of 2017, it had been just short of a full year following his resignation from the network, and Annapurna Pictures wasted no time announcing a project that would soon fledge into Bombshell. Ailes, who has been instrumental in Republican nominees cinching the presidencies over the decades, had been accused of sexual harassment from several women and had agreed to step down to an afterlife of no punishable consequence because that’s the way this world works. Interestingly, the Harvey Weinstein profile wasn’t released until the fall of the next year, and so it was a, well, bombshell that such a company was at the forefront of taking down old white men in longstanding power (but feel free to hold your applause).
Guided by the real-life events that led to Ailes’s downfall, Bombshell‘s narrative is straightforward and relies on the star power of Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, and Margot Robbie to propel the plot from Point A to Point B. The lawsuit, spearheaded by Kidman’s anchorwoman Gretchen Carlson, doesn’t come to light quite yet, as Carlson wants to be certain that other women will come forward. Until then, the three women’s worlds don’t collide as much as one would hope; the heavily marketed elevator scene emanates a small buzz, but means nothing more than a falsified sense of high-cheekboned teamwork.
In the meantime, Theron leads as veteran anchorwoman Megyn Kelly, who initially loses footing with Fox viewers when she challenges Donald Trump at a Republican Party debate concerning his respect for women. Margot Robbie’s evangelical Kayla Pospisil represents an amalgamation of various women that have been affected by Ailes, but her budding newscasting career makes her uneasy about coming forward. Eventually, Kelly and Pospisil are stuck between their loyalty to Ailes (John Lithgow) and the truth of the matter.
Unbeknownst to anyone who’s had the premise or the trailer in their peripheral vision, the tone of the film veers towards a surprisingly satirical route for the first few beats. Theron’s Kelly guides us through a behind-the-scenes dissection of a Fox Show episode with the same comedic pauses that one might expect watching Michael giving a tour of the Bluth residence. When Kelly preps for the infamous debate, there is a hilariously thick binder labeled TRUMP AND WOMEN thrown in front of her. But perhaps because of the overarching topic matter, the film doesn’t place comedy in its welcoming banner, despite having funny bones like Kate McKinnon, Rob Delaney, and Allison Janney populating the background roles.
As it may be, I understand that Bombshell‘s overall lack of humor is an attempted means of being apolitical. Sexual harassment is a nonpartisan issue, and treading on waters to poke fun of one side can alienate parties into thinking that there is an agenda abound. It pussyfoots around any type of mockery of Fox News, but rarely relishes in positive remarks of the network. The movie just simply is. When it takes flight during the serious matters, it resonates a few deep notes that are often forgotten through the media’s sensationalism of assault (and Theron does a spectacular job making Kelly into a compelling and smart individual). But without any risk in storytelling, it becomes the cinematic equivalent to Tulsi Gabbard’s “present.”
dir. Jay Roach
Out in theaters now — catch it in Kendall Square Cinema or Coolidge Corner!