December 5, 2019

SCREEN | Theron and Kidman Drop A 'Bombshell' on Fox News

"Sushi is not a liberal food."
Nicole Kidman Margot Robbie Jay Roach | Bombshell

I'm not sure a semi-comedic docudrama about the real-life Fox News sexual misconduct scandal focused on problematic anchor Megyn Kelly as the reluctant heroine was such a great idea. Comedy director Jay Roach recreates much of the behind-the-scenes drama around the news channel's controversial coverage for his dramatization of the state of cable news and toxic workplace treatment towards women in Bombshell.

Produced and starring an eerily pitch-perfect Charlize Theron as Kelly, she makes for less than a sympathetic main character. Nicole Kidman is strong as the smart and much more sympathetic Gretchen Carlson. However, a wide-eyed Margot Robbie is the real heart of the movie as a composite character, a junior producer who quickly comes under the eye of Fox News boss Roger Ailes (John Lithgow), but she doesn't get much time to steer the ship.

The film's crux and dramatic tension revolve around Kelly's angst against coming out against Ailes publicly jeopardizing her own power and image (ironically, given to her by Ailes) or standing with other women and victims. It's hard to identify with a selfishly complicit protagonist so tortured in not doing the right thing for pure self-interest. Theron's version of Kelly comes off very preoccupied with her own treatment despite the women around her clearly suffering in silence while being simultaneously bullied.

The Big Short co-screenwriter Charles Randolph zigs and zags all over recent history but isn't able to go in-depth into any character outside of Kelly unlike the recent Showtime miniseries The Loudest Voice that covers much of the same grounds. That show focused squarely on Ailes without even featuring Kelly as a character at all despite her status as a pseudo detective here. Even New York magazine journalist and Ailes biographer Gabriel Sherman is only mentioned offhand in passing despite his central role in breaking the entire scandal publicly.

The extremely mixed Bombshell snarkily explores the uniquely deep toxicity of Fox News' work culture with so much talent and style yet it just doesn't fit. It's hard to make a hero story out of mostly such vile or unknown real-life characters. The endless parade of media personality cameos played by semi-famous faces, while amusing, distract from the starkly dark material. Unfortunately, much like its subjects, the film comes off much more as surface-level stylish than substantive.

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