Director: Jay Roach
Writer: Charles Randolph
Cast: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Mark Duplass, Allison Janney, Rob Delaney, Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton, Malcom McDowell, Liv Hewson, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Richard Kind, Ben Lawson, Josh Lawson
Cinema, along with many forms of art and media, is often used as a vehicle for bringing light to subjects that may be taboo or uncomfortable to talk about and tackle in everyday life. Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past few years, you’ll have noticed that one of the biggest issues in society, the treatment and inequality of women in the workplace, has been placed firmly in the spotlight. Hollywood itself is historically one of the worst places for the fair treatment of women, and as such, the women of the entertainment industry have been finding their way to speak up by using their own medium. Bombshell is the result of one of those ways, a film that depicts the treatment of women in the journalism field. But is it enough to really shake things up and help bring about the change sorely needed, or is it just riding the wave to make a quick buck?
Based on true events, Bombshell pulls together the accounts of several women working for Fox News during the time Roger Ailes (Lithgow) was CEO and uses them as a basis for the characters’ experiences. The stories mainly involve being sexually harassed by Ailes himself as well as their general treatment by male colleagues in their day to day working lives. The main plot begins with the 2016 Republican debate, in which Donald Trump was interviewed by newscaster Megyn Kelly (Theron). Thereafter, she became the subject of Trump’s insults on social media, causing something of a public backlash against Kelly and inciting Fox to hire security for her and her family. Meanwhile, fellow Fox newscaster Gretchen Carlson (Kidman) prepares for a lawsuit against Ailes himself, suing him for sexual harassment, and hopes other female employees at Fox will come forward and support her case. Then there’s newbie Kayla Pospisil (Robbie), a woman much younger than either Kelly or Carlson, looking to work her way up at Fox. She too, however, finds herself in a predicament that forces her to choose between her career or herself.
For those of us outside the US, Kelly’s and Carlson’s publicised stories may be unfamiliar, but their experiences likely are not. Whether it’s yourself who has been subjected to similar treatment by a male colleague or superior, or if it’s someone you know or even someone you watch on TV daily, chances are you’re not that far from someone who has suffered the way these women have. In that sense, this film, whether it’s bad or good or somewhere in-between, is hugely important for so many reasons, including but not limited to giving women a voice and allowing other women to hear that voice, and know that they are not alone in what they have been/are going through, and that they don’t have to let it lie/continue any more. Of course, that’s not to say that the film suggests it’s easy to win a lawsuit against your harasser – instead, it tells the unfortunate and despicable truth that, although some women do go on to win their case, many women are not always believed or supported, at least not without some form of evidence or without others coming forward with similar stories.
From an overall filmmaking stance, the movie is not without its flaws. The stories could probably have gone a lot deeper for one thing; the real Kelly watched the movie with her husband and ex-colleagues, whom the movie was based on, and then they sat down to talk about it (see the full video here), expressing that it was much worse than what the movie depicted. There were likely many reasons that director Roach and writer Randolph held back on going all the way, but at some point those things are going to have to come to light and tell the full story of what many women experience in order to make a truly meaningful impact. It also may make us wonder if having a male director and male writer was the right way to go? Does it not make the whole thing feel a little redundant, to have men (no matter how talented they are or if they treat women well) helm the project? Randolph’s involvement does has some sense to it, as he was a co-writer of The Big Short, a story with a similar theme of revealing the corruption of a world run by men. The framing of Bombshell is also similar, with some (albeit random) fourth-wall breaking to address the audience, which is a nice touch to involve us, but it quickly gets left behind. Could the screenplay really not have had more female involvement? Or some involvement from Kelly herself (Carlson unfortunately signed an NDA in reality)? Also, it’s important to quickly note that this kind of stuff doesn’t just happen to blonde women. It could have been nice to have made Pospisil, a fictional character, brunette or red or something other than blonde, even of another ethnicity, just to add a level of diversity and understanding that these things don’t just happen to blonde white women.
Performance-wise, Theron gives us everything we could expect of her, being the extremely versatile actress that she is, but it’s not really anything we haven’t seen before from her. Her likeness to Kelly, both physically and verbally, is impressive, and the balance between her strength and vulnerability is superb, but again the lack of facts regarding Kelly’s experiences prevents us from really understanding her as a character. It’s a similar story for Kidman – she embodies Carlson extremely well, and although we see more of her emotional trials as she pursues the lawsuit, we unfortunately don’t know the extent of it. In this way, it’s the writing that’s letting Theron and Kidman down rather than anything they’re doing. In a similar vein with Theron, Robbie’s performance isn’t something entirely brand new for her, but at least Pospisil’s story is one that gives us a glimpse into what this whole film is actually about. Robbie still turns in an excellent performance and it helps us to understand the point of view that Roach is putting across; it’s through Pospisil that we are shown a little of what some women went through working under Ailes. It also could not have been easy for Lithgow to portray such a heinous person, but he does a great job in confusing the audience the way many of Ailes’ female employees will have been, in that he was a supportive boss one minute and a lecherous manipulator the next. Not a fun role to play, surely, but certainly an essential one.
After Ailes’ death in 2017 and the downfall of Harvey Weinsten (a Hollywood mogul who harrassed and abused women) in the same year, it was only a matter of time before this movie became a reality, and no doubt others will follow in its wake, hopefully with something to really drive home the reality of what women (and many people, really) face when trying to climb the career ladder. As mentioned, it may not be the perfect film, but its importance cannot be denied, and for that it deserves strong praise. At the very least, Bombshell is a call to arms, a battle cry to let the world know that women will not be forced into a secondary position and continue to be objects to the whim of men any longer. Overall, it’s an entertaining movie (it feels strange to label a movie with such subject matter as ‘entertaining’) with a strong message and without a slip of monotony, meaning you will be transfixed from beginning to end whilst understanding that this kind of thing cannot continue in the workplace. Let’s just hope that those who really need to see this message, and understand it, do so.