In 2016, Fox News almost came unraveled in a few days as its CEO, Roger Ailes, was accused of sexual harassment before being forced to resign. The story of Ailes’ journey from creating the most successful American news channel to death might well be a fascinating one, but a deft hand is needed to do it (see: Addison Wylie’s review of Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes). Unfortunately, director Jay Roach (HBO’s Recount and Game Change) does not possess the right qualifications and his Adam McKay-lite Bombshell is the product of his attempt.
Bombshell tells the story of the women who brought down Ailes from within, following fictional producer Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie) and real hosts Megyn Kelly (unrecognizable Charlize Theron) and Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) as they make their accusations public. As you can surely assume, this film is a masterclass of acting. Not just from these three women, but from all the other people who show up throughout—Richard Kind’s cameo as Rudy Giuliani is a wonderful moment. On top of that, the makeup work in the film is impeccable, occasionally creating uncanny versions of real people who look more like them than themselves. These are, however, the only positive things that can be said about Bombshell.
Academy Award winning screenwriter Charles Randolph certainly has a distinct style which was introduced to the world through The Big Short. That style was adapted to this film, but where it arguably succeeded there, it unequivocally fails here for a few reasons. First, Jay Roach is not Adam McKay, no matter how much he tries here, resulting in a generic political comedy that never quite hits its notes. Secondly, this is a story of women written and directed by men who ultimately have nothing to say on the topic, frequently giving into stereotypes of femininity. Thirdly, the story of Ailes is a fairly straightforward story, which doesn’t lend itself to this narrative structure, resulting in a film that, at once, takes no narrative risks but still comes out seeming jumbled. This is further hindered by the visual style, full of unnecessary pans and zooms that distract the viewer and destroy the immersion. Seriously, prepare to feel seasick!
However, none of these are the film’s biggest crime: that designation goes to the film’s allergy to the idea of nuance. Kelly and Carlson are victims of sexual harassment. They also happen to be horrible people who are wholly complicit in the distribution of the sort of propaganda that led to the sort of world where their employees could harass them without reproach. It is absolutely possible to tell a story where both statements are true—where the women are presented as victims of Ailes without having their own crimes forgiven—but Roach has clearly not figured out how. This is an interesting time for mainstream political narratives, but Bombshell is not a worthy addition to that canon.
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Shahbaz Khayambashi: @Shakhayam