Of all of the official #MeToo stories out there, it’s no surprise that the one emanating from Fox News was the first to be told on film. In addition to the salacious allegations against former chairman and CEO Roger Ailes from bold-faced accusers, the controversial position Fox News holds in the media and political landscape makes it doubly interesting.
Bombshell begins in 2015, when the race for the 2016 Republican nomination was just starting to heat up. Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) decides to challenge Donald Trump on his attitude toward women at a debate that she is co-hosting. The tepid support Kelly receives after Trump’s subsequent attacks on her underscore a pervasive attitude at Fox. Ailes (John Lithgow), in both implicit and explicit terms, objectifies Fox’s on-air female talent, including a decree that they must always wear skirts to show off their legs.
Meanwhile, Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), who had been leading a quiet revolt on her program, is fired, leading her to sue Ailes for sexual harassment. Carlson’s accusations force many in the Fox newsroom to take stock of themselves, including Kelly and Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie). Kayla is a fictional character meant to represent the legion of similar women whom Ailes promised promotions in return for sexual favors.
Directed by Jay Roach and written by Charles Randolph, the film explores many avenues, never settling on one specific point of view. That’s likely because the real-life narrative is extremely complicated, with conflicting feelings from all involved. Kelly and Carlson struggle with the bargain they have made, gaining high-profile anchor roles at the expense of allowing a man like Ailes to go mostly unchallenged.
The character of Kayla is also a conduit for the filmmakers to take digs at Fox News’ less-than-consistent nature. She spells out a laughable interpretation of their “Fair and Balanced” slogan, with one side of their on-air talent labeled as “entertainers” instead of reporters. She also shares a friendship with Jess (Kate McKinnon), a Bill O’Reilly staffer who hides the fact that she’s a lesbian and a Democrat in order to keep her position in a tough market.
Aside from that, though, Roach and Randolph mostly eschew politics in favor of keeping the story focused on the toxic sexual culture at Fox News. Multiple other Fox personalities make appearances, with most of them taking the side of Ailes until it becomes apparent that that position is untenable.
When the first trailer for Bombshell was released, it was shocking how much Theron looked like Kelly. The filmmakers didn’t stop there, though, as it seems they spent a lot time making sure the makeup for certain other people was as accurate as possible. From Ailes to O’Reilly to Jeanine Pirro to Greta Van Susteren, they put a lot of effort into re-creating the looks of everyone associated with Fox News.
Theron, who also serves as producer, is the undisputed star of the movie. She doesn’t just look like Kelly, she also sounds like her, and the combination of makeup and acting skill is downright amazing. Kidman plays Carlson as somewhat of an enigma, and the role never pops as a result. Robbie has a magnetism that has served her well in almost everything she’s done, and she winds up being the emotional core of the film.
The film is also downright lousy with well-known actors willing to pop up for glorified cameos. They include Allison Janney, Mark Duplass, Alice Eve, Richard Kind, Holland Taylor, Malcolm McDowell, and more. Finding out what famous person is playing what role is often a dose of levity in a film with such a serious subject.
Now several years later and with multiple other high-profile #MeToo revelations having come out, the events at the center of Bombshell are no longer shocking. But that doesn’t make a recounting of them any less necessary, even with the setting of Fox News sure to muddy the waters for a certain segment of viewers.