Bombshell (2019) Jan 11, 2020 18:03:50 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Jan 11, 2020 18:03:50 GMT -5
Directed by: Jay Roach
Directed by: Jay Roach
Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), and Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie) in Bombshell.
Unlike Vice — maybe the most obvious point of comparison — Bombshell doesn't serenade us with several fourth-wall breaks nor present history with a tone of condescension. Its narrative triptych of sorts is well-presented and clear, anchored by three terrific actresses, most notably Charlize Theron in a chameleon performance as Megyn Kelly. All this almost makes you ignore the film's inability, or perhaps reluctance, to twist the knife when it comes to showing the role of Fox News and its anchors in perpetuating the brand of misogyny that makes it so hard for abused women to come forward.
Bombshell weaves three storylines together to paint the backdrop of the sexual misconduct allegations that eventually dethroned Fox News chairman/CEO Roger Ailes (played ferociously by John Lithgow) in 2016. All of them have equal time insofar that it's difficult to bill one as the primary narrative. Taking place concurrent with the rise of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, the first act deals with Trump's well-documented public feud with Megyn Kelly, which came to a head with his famous, uncouth "blood" comment. Meanwhile, Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) deals with an unfair demotion from the network's flagship Fox & Friends TV show when she's relegated to the afternoon death-slot and later an ousting, which was followed with her suing Ailes for sexual harassment. Then there's Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), a fictitious character by name who serves as a stand-in for Ailes' many victims. Kayla's a young journalist working on Bill O'Reilly's (Kevin Dorff) staff alongside Jess Carr (Kate McKinnon), a gay staff-member who serves as Kayla's confidant after Kayla is a victim of Ailes' behavior first-hand. After learning of Kayla's on-air ambitions, it's Ailes' secretary (Holland Taylor) who encourages her to stop by the chairman's office, particularly after taking note of her blonde hair and pencil skirt in the process.
This is a film with many fine performances. Theron's transformation as Kelly is nothing short of remarkable, so effective at times I forgot I was watching an actress portray Kelly and not the journalist herself. Tip of the cap to the legion of unrecognized makeup and costume designers, who do an unfathomable job of turning up Theron's nose and priming her cheekbones in such a way to make the disguise so seamless. Beyond the appearance, Theron's cadence and vocal inflections drive the performance home. Kidman does fine work as a woman who has been unfairly sidelined and undermined, be it on air or behind closed doors, throughout much of her career. But it's Robbie who might have the most difficult task of all as her character, while fictional, is curated from so many women whose names are not known enough for their stories to matter to the public. Unsurprisingly, she does a great job of capturing the type of women Fox likes to court as their anchors. I could go on and mention Alanna Ubach's role as Jeanine Pirro, one of Fox's most loyal and loudest voices, who goes to bat for Ailes without question, or even Connie Britton's as Ailes' enabling wife Beth, for there's a handful of smaller, supporting performances that do quite a lot with little screentime.
Bombshell is cut from the same cloth as The Big Short and the aforementioned Vice. It features the same narrative approach of characters addressing the audience and the self-aware narration, albeit in far less of an obtuse manner. At times it feels like a piece of hounddog journalism with the background elements serving as the writer's POV, so to speak, and it's complementary to the overall approach.
The film was directed by Jay Roach, who after making a solid career with comedy films (the Austin Powers franchise and Meet the Parents segwayed into the political sphere with several HBO-backed projects such as Recount, the underrated Game Change, and All the Way. He has a deft ability to untangle complex stories and make them accessible, even if they're not always linear. Such is the case with Bombshell, and he doesn't miss a beat in keeping us in lockstep with many in-house figures and their swirling motivations.
Where the film misses the boat is in its frequent oversimplifications. It's willing to hold Fox News' feet to the fire, but not close enough to make them feel the heat, nor does it address the overlying issue that still makes Carlson and Kelly unsympathetic figures even in the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement. As horrible as their situations were, and how the pain and mental anguish for them will be everlasting, much less forever public, these women were, too, the very souls who helped further the kind of ideological justifications that make it so difficult for victims of sexual harassment to take action, let alone admit what happened. Through archival footage of Fox News broadcasts and dramatizations, we see a network that smothers the female voice and chides women for being overly emotional creatures as it decries feminist movements and ideals. Sadly, screenwriter Charles Randolph (co-producer of this film and co-writer of The Big Short) doesn't paint these shades of gray that make this whole saga that much more complex. Randolph thoughtfully executes the story, but he negates the impact by not examining the underlying hypocrisy. With that, Bombshell settles for being a disquieting reminder instead of living up to its title.
Starring: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Connie Britton, Kate McKinnon, Alanna Ubach, Allison Janney, Malcolm McDowell, Holland Taylor, Mark Duplass, Katie Aselton, Kevin Dorff, and Alice Eve. Directed by: Jay Roach.