Bombshell (Jay Roach, 2019) 2½ out of 4 stars.
Neither a brilliant takedown of Fox News nor a misfire, Bombshellfeatures engaging lead performances from Charlize Theron (Long Shot), John Lithgow (Pet Sematary), Nicole Kidman (Boy Erased) and Margot Robbie (I, Tonya), among others, and a jaunty, fast-paced script that mostly holds our attention. If its ultimate thesis is a bit muddied, at least it doesn’t overstay its welcome. What, exactly, was the result of the titular “bombshell”? The revelations of Roger Ailes’ sexual misconduct seem to have had little impact on the culture of the network he founded; from the perspective of late 2019, not much has changed. The Murdoch family played it safe, got rid of Ailes, and nothing really changed. That toxic right-wing cauldron of hate still spews misogyny galore. And so while Bombshell appears to be made with the best of intentions, and works best when it focuses on the procedural thrill of rising accusations, it falters when it reaches for larger cultural resonance, operating like a fast-food version of the #MeToo movement.
As such, there is therefore a lack of dramatic finality to the whole affair, though the journey is the entertaining thing. Theron is terrific as Megyn Kelly, deepening her voice and benefiting from prosthetics to subtly change the contours of her face, with Lithgow and Kidman equally fine as Ailes and Gretchen Carlson, respectively. Robbie plays the fictional Kayla Pospisil, a young Christian conservative with surprisingly bisexual tendencies who is both a gung-ho enthusiast for all things Fox and bestie to Kate McKinnon’s twice-closeted Jess Carr (both a lesbian and a democrat). What do Kelly, Carlson and Pospisil all have in common? They’re pretty and blonde, and all of a certain comely body type, as we see in a wonderful scene in an elevator where they all stand together, slowly realizing their physical similarities. Overall, the cast is pitch-perfect, carrying us along for the fun.
And despite the nasty truth underlying the story, fun it is, watching as Carlson, fired by Fox, quickly outmaneuvers her former employers and files suit against Ailes, all details prepared in advance. It turns out the man (expertly profiled in Alexis Bloom’s 2018 documentary Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes) has long had a history of harassment and abuse, telling young female wannabes that “in order to get ahead, you have to give a little head.” Good to know that one of the men responsible for destroying modern democracy had such a strong moral code! From Carlson, attention shifts to Kelly, the reigning woman anchor who, it turns out, was also previously harassed by Ailes. As the halls of Fox become a den of suspicions and lies, no one knows what she will do.
Of course, we know how this will end, though it’s still enjoyable to see it play out. Roach (Trumbo), working off a script by Charles Randolph (The Big Short), may have a tendency to oversimplify the issues, and is unsure of how to reconcile the film’s outcome with our present-day mess, but he knows his way around actors and dialogue, and keeps us hooked, throughout. If one thing is clear, by the end, it is that the entitled male chauvinism portrayed here has deep roots, extending across the land and into the White House (Trump plays a big role in the film with his grotesque, sexualized attacks on Kelly). It will take more than a few conservative women – who reject the label of feminist, interestingly enough – to save us. The true bombshell will come when we all decide that enough is enough. Until then, Bombshell is a mere medium-spicy appetizer.