“Bombshell” is based on a true story regarding sexual harassment at Fox News. It stars Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly, John Lithgow as Roger Ailes, Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson, and Margot Robbie as (fictional character) Kayla Pospisil. Although “Bombshell” seems to want you to think that sexual harassment is its primary focus, the comedy is what draws the most attention. That and the makeup, which will surely land the film an Oscar win in that category.
Whistleblower cinema seems to be quite popular this year. First we had “Official Secrets,” then “The Report,” and now “Bombshell.” “Official Secrets” and “The Report” were more run-of-the-mills, slow-paced dramas that built intrigue and unveiled intelligence to the audience with purpose. “Bombshell” cares more about entertainment and laughs at the expense of its story, and it’s a shame considering the quality of the performances. Charlize Theron is unrecognizable as Megyn Kelly. The cheekbones, the turned up nose, and the fake lashes are doing the heavy lifting. The most impressive part is the voice – the distinct rhythm and seductive richness is spot on. Theron also expertly embodies Kelly’s persona – her ambition and toughness, and ability to take authority in a largely male-dominated space. Theron makes us forget that we’re watching a portrayal of Kelly on screen, and she sometimes breaks the fourth wall to inform us of how the power structure works at Fox News.
Nicole Kidman brings conviction to her performance as Gretchen Carlson. I would have liked to have gotten to explore more of her personal life and how the lawsuit affected her family life. Margot Robbie’s Kayla seems to be the main protagonist though, because she is the one faced with clear on-screen harassment. Margot shines in one of the best scenes of the year when she must deal with the mental and career implications of having been harassed by Ailes. Yet, her character is fictional, and the harassment that is depicted on-screen never actually happened. Herein lies the biggest problem with “Bombshell,” which seems at times to want to break free of its real-life premise and comedic roots and tell a totally different story.
I would have been more interested in watching a purely original story with Kayla; one not rooted in the true story of harassment at Fox News. It’s well known that Fox exploits the sexual attractiveness of its female anchors. The infamous leg cam is touted by Ailes in “Bombshell,” who runs out of his office frequently to shout highly misogynistic insults at the anchors and camera crews. He conducts himself with no dignity, and it’s hard to believe that such over-the-top antics wouldn’t have gotten him fired years earlier. To buy into “Bombshell,” you must buy into the hysteria that liberal Hollywood has over Fox News – that it is inhabited by a bunch of homophobic, racist, narcissistic, misogynistic idiots except for perhaps Kelly and Carlson, who are now gone. And for all I know, that may be true, but at times the film overplays its hand. Aside from the star trio, the supporting cast members all play caricatures of real-life personas. It’s highly distracting, especially if you have watched Fox News.
That’s not to say that what happened at Fox wasn’t reprehensible – it was, and Ailes and several others were rightfully let go. If the culture was really so bad, then it deserves to be given a more serious story. For an R-rated film, “Bombshell” feels restrained in its on-screen depiction of harassment and misogyny. When Lithgow is in frame portraying the predatory and paranoid sides of Ailes, he’s always overshadowed by the cloud of black comedy. I walked out thinking it was a PG-13 film, but was surprised when I revisited my ticket and saw the “R” staring back at me. I suppose there were enough f-words to warrant it.
“Bombshell” is attractive, glossy, and yearns to be more than surface level. I think that should another film about harassment be made, it shouldn’t take place in a real-life corporation. “Bombshell” tries to replicate the flamboyant yet informative tone of “The Big Short,” but comes off as a stylish TV dramedy. I never got a sense of conviction from the screenplay, which seemed to be at odds with the seriousness of the actors.