Jay Roach’s retelling of the Fox News scandal boasts strong performances and a slick momentum that largely overcomes its undercooked politics.
“I’m not a feminist. I’m a lawyer,” Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) reminds her assistants. There’s no hesitation in her voice though; if anything, she’s proud to distance herself from her own morals. It’s mid-2015 and she’s just gone on her Fox News program to criticize Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump for his misogyny. She’s reminded everyone that his ex-wife, Ivana, accused him of rape, and she doesn’t let anyone forget that Trump’s camp retorted, “… [Y]ou can’t rape your spouse.”
Then network founder Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) reminds her just as Trump loves Fox, Fox viewers love Trump. Anyone who’d dare interfere with such a lucrative symbiosis would be “difficult” at the very least, and it doesn’t take long for her to realize it: tweets arise from both the nominee and his followers. But Trump isn’t the story, nor is his hatred. It’s Kelly, Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), and even newbie Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie). It’s one thing to grow. It’s another thing to be forced to grow, and then get punished for it.
Jay Roach’s film confronts these topics among a handful of others, but that isn’t to say that they’re constantly on the director’s mind. They’re more on writer Charles Randolph’s, and more importantly, the performers’. Bombshell has its inconsistencies and an oversimplified moral compass at points, but this narrative triptych unspools with enough momentum to steady its flow. It’s a part-satire/part-social critique that’s as concerned with amorality as it is outright evil, making for enough to distract that a better (and woman) director could have turned goodness into greatness.
However, one should note that unlike what its title may imply, Bombshell isn’t too focused on just one revelation. It’s the overt versus the systematic, the shamelessness that people see as just being “realistic.” Kelly’s story here is the starting point, and by truncating its first act into what feels like mere minutes, Roach and Randolph whisk on to different shades of oppression. There’s the ageism lobbed at Carlson, the exploitation of Pospisil’s naïveté, and most of all, the power imbalances that Ailes has curated in order to harass and assault women for over a decade.
What begins as tenuous connections between the women turns more solid, but, at its best, Bombshell avoids didacticism. The conflict lies in what’s often seen as normalcy—at least to those who haven’t been on the receiving end of such transgressions. Randolph’s script might be the most layered in its refusal to feature the girl power clichés one might expect with no literal boys’ club setup here and not much resembling a battle of the sexes. When it looks at internalized misogyny, the picture really finds its wrinkles.
It’s a part-satire/part-social critique that’s as concerned with amorality as it is outright evil, making for enough to distract that a better (and woman) director could have turned goodness into greatness.
Granted, those are more towards the end, but the preceding subplots do good work at detaching morals from professionalism. Randolph treats Kelly’s domestic life with a refreshing sense of disinterest while Pospisil gets her own subplot with her centrist co-worker and love interest, Jess (Kate McKinnon). It’s Kidman however, who gets the short end of the stick, and it’s a bit of a shame too. By echoing the quietness of her dramatic work and the plasticky persuasion of To Die For, she plays the role with the contradictions the film could have used more of.
But for its ripped-from-the-headlines plot, its lack of sensationalism is one of its biggest assets. It’s about these women and their lackluster growths. It’s only at the very end that it pulls some punches by implying that such were apolitical all along, and while it’s disappointing in that respect, just maybe that’s the point. Maybe they’ll grow later on. There are bigger fish to fry, but with its performances and momentum, Bombshell gets by by the skin of its teeth.
Bombshell blows up theaters everywhere on December 20.