Tongue-in-cheek title aside, there’s not a whole lot in Jay Roach’s takedown of Fox News that’s farcical. If anything, the movie is earnest, even sincere in the way it unloads on male toxicity in the media, but Roger Ailes is dead and Megyn Kelly, though somewhat chastened by her failure at NBC, still willfully spouts ignorant horseshit. In a word, Bombshell is burdened with too much ongoing context.
It’s important to note that the story here is highly speculative, even if it’s based on real events that had real concsequences. What went on in closed offices is subject to poetic license, and Roach and his screenwriter, Charles Randolph, don’t color too far outside the lines, which is sort of where the earnestness comes in. For the first half hour or so, the movie looks to be taking the piss, with the preternaturally blonde trio of network star Kelly (Charlize Theron), on-the-outs anchor Gretchen Calrson (Nicole Kidman), and up-and-coming new recruit (a fictional “composite”) Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), each manuevering their respective positions of power or lack thereof in opposition to one another but in coordination with the whims of their boss, the imperious and imperiously ugly (in all senses of the word), Roger Ailes (John Lithgow). The derisive tone of the dialogue and the production design makes it look like Mad Men if the 60s had actually turned out differently that it had, sociopolitically speaking, that is. And that’s a fair way of looking at the corporate culture of Fox News, which is so obsessed with image over content that their notional right-wing agenda is more a result of their game rather than the impetus for it. Forget about Ailes being media advisor to past Republican presidents, what he gave them was corporate advice, not ideological talking points.
And for a while this approach works well in that the film’s conspiratorial atmosphere is thrilling and unself-serious. The ringer is Kelly, who, sticking to her professions guns, nailed Trump on his sexism during a debate. At first, we get to see Kelly asserting her power at the network, which was spooked by her affront to Trump, by making a case that she is not a feminist but a real journalist, two descriptions that will mostly draw howls of derisive laughter from knowing newswatchers, and if Bombshell had continued in that vein it might have made a good comedy. Unfortunately, it becomes something else that is much more muddled. Carlson, hurt by her demotion to an afternoon time slot she feels is beneath her, sues Ailes for sexual harassment, and, in order to illustrate what she’s talking about, we get an extremely distasteful one-on-one as Ailes interviews Pospisil for an on-air job that involves blatant power harassment. There’s, of course, no way you can make light of either of these plot points, and they are vital to the story that Roach wants to tell, but they make the movie feel turgid and self-important. We know enough about Fox News and male toxicity by now to have formed our own opinions about both and either, and having Bombshell try to make it all seem like news again feels redundant. Besides, it’s not as if Fox News learned anything.
Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Toho Cinemas Shibuya (050-6868-5002), Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024).
Bombshell home page in Japanese.
photo (c) Lions Gate Entertainment Inc.