I was so geeked to see “Bombshell.” The trailer, showing Charlize Theron looking exactly like Meygn Kelly while Billie Eillish’s “bad guy” throbbed in the background, was absolutely gripping. Unlike recent movies that have recounted political and historical events like “Vice,” “The Post,” and “The Big Short,” the sexual harassment allegations and subsequent firing of Fox News CEO Roger Ailes detailed in “Bombshell” unfolded as I was in high school and just beginning to pay serious attention to current events. I was excited! This sort of news and bureaucratic intrigue is right up my alley.
The public knows the story of Meygn Kelly (Charlize Theron) and Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) standing up to sexual assault and harassment in the workplace in a way that was unorthodox and revolutionary. ”Bombshell” promised to tell the behind-the-scenes story of women who went against patriarchy and bureaucracy to bring down the biggest predator and demagogue in news, and it promised to do it with style. It missed the mark.
Everything about “Bombshell” was overwhelmingly mediocre. The handheld documentary style camera work was predictable, the script was oddly paced and its story of empowerment is undercut by its unwillingness to pull punches both narratively and stylistically. You know that moment in a “newspaper movie” where the journalists are nervous about a controversial story but then the editor bravely says “Run it?” “Bombshell” did not have a “run it.” It treated every single beat of the story with the same weight and in so doing, lost the dramatic significance of key moments.
Now, it is very possible that the underwhelming presentation of key plot points was meant to represent how Ailes’s behavior such a taboo subject at Fox, but when I think of all the press before the release of “Bombshell,” citing it as a story of women speaking up and having courage, I find that hard to believe. It did not feel like a story about strong women, it felt like a story of strong women told by men who have no idea what position those women were in. And what do you know? Both the director and screenwriter are male.
There is a scene in which Roger Ailes, played by John Lithgow, forces fictional Fox producer Kayla Pospisil (Margo Robbie) to pull her dress up and reveal her underwear. The scene does show the audience an example of the harassment that was going on at Fox, but on the other hand, it spends a bit too long with Kayla’s underwear and exposed legs in the frame. The sympathy we are supposed to develop for Kayla or disgust we are supposed to feel about Ailes is undercut by the male gaze of the camera.
Robbie’s character in general was a misfire. Having a character who serves as a surrogate for the audience can be a useful narrative device, but it was not necessary in “Bombshell.” The audience already has Carlson and Kelly to show them how Fox works and what Ailes had subjected them to. A smarter screenwriter would have used more time with them to build up empathy for the two characters instead of having Robbie’s character navigate her way through the proverbial Fox news cafeteria for us. Don’t get me wrong, Robbie is a fantastic actress and she does what she can with the role, but like so much else in this film, her character feels like an afterthought to the story we are supposed to be following.
That being said, it was not all bad. I liked the score, the prosthetic makeup on Lithgow and Theron was beyond impressive and the performances were great. Theron especially managed to capture the essence of Megyn Kelly in a way that was almost uncanny. However, even her performance was not able to salvage the film from its mediocrity. Not to mention, it is hard to root for Kelly and Carlson after the controversial opinions they have had and claims they have made as Fox News anchors.
“Bombshell” is a flawed film, unable to be saved from the mismanaging hands of an all-male creative team by the power of three powerhouse actresses. While it wants to be an inspiring #MeToo story, “Bombshell” cannot seem to pack the punch it needs to succeed.