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New Release Review - BOMBSHELL

bombshell review
A Fox News staffer becomes the victim of sexual harassment.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Jay Roach

Starring: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Alison Janney, Malcolm McDowell, Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton, Mark Duplass

bombshell poster




Hot on the heels of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Seberg comes Bombshell, another movie in which a fictional character becomes embroiled in the lives of real life figures. Here, Margot Robbie plays Kayla, a young conservative Christian woman who lands her dream job as a staffer at the right wing cable news network Fox News. She soon finds herself attracting the attention of notorious predator and CEO Roger Ailes (John Lithgow).

Aside from Kayla, most of the characters we meet in director Jay Roach's film are real life faces familiar to anyone who has ever had the misfortune of tuning into Fox News (I should probably point out at this point that given my left wing leanings, this review will be fair, but I can't guarantee balance).

bombshell review

We're introduced to this world by former face of Fox Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron, excellent), who in the opening scene gives us a fourth wall breaking, whirlwind tour of the world of conservative cable news, where beauty pageants wear short skirts and lecture America on its declining morality. Another key figure is Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), a former Miss America turned news anchor. What do these women have in common, other than being two of the most despicable ****s to ever appear on TV?

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They both claim to have been sexually harassed by Ailes. Both women have found a way to brush off Ailes while rising through the ranks at the network, but the wet behind the ears Kayla has no such street smarts, and gives in easily to Ailes' demands. Can she find the strength to go public with Ailes' behaviour?

bombshell review

Bombshell is a tonal mess. It opens with Kelly strutting around and making meta wisecracks, giving us the false illusion that we're in for something along the lines of those other recent liberal Oscar bait dramas The Big Short and Vice, but given its theme of sexual assault, it's forced to quickly assume a far more sombre tone.

Yet if you watched Bombshell with the sound down you might assume you were watching a screwball comedy, something along the lines of 9 to 5. While Theron is the spit of Kelly, most of the cast look like they're parodying the real life figures they're playing, and much of the film resembles a Saturday Night Live sketch without the laughs (so, essentially an SNL sketch then).

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Viewers on this side of the Atlantic may not be as familiar with the people portrayed here as our American cousins, and Roach's film is so disingenuous in how it portrays Kelly and Carlson that naive cinemagoers may view them as feminist heroes rather than the cheerleaders for the lunatic fringe they really are. Roach and screenwriter Charles Randolph have clearly found themselves in a quandary here. They want to be good little liberals and make a movie that takes down an evil rich white man, but they are unable to reconcile with the truth that he was taken down by evil rich white women. The movie is resolutely unwilling to explore the notion that Ailes' entitled behaviour was propped up on a nightly basis by Kelly and Carlson's right wing rhetoric.

bombshell review

Injecting a fictional character into the proceedings seems like a misfire from the beginning, allowing Ailes' defenders to thus pass the whole movie off as a work of unfair and imbalanced fiction, but it doesn't help that Robbie's Kayla is such a cardboard cutout. She's a parody of how America's coastal elites view the vast majority of people who live in their country, but her conservative Christian ways are implausibly put aside for her to enjoy a lesbian relationship with a fellow staffer (Kate McKinnon, whose presence adds to the SNL feel of the whole affair), as though Roach and Randolph assume their target liberal audience need this detail to sympathise with her. It also doesn't help that what should be a chilling scene - Kayla forced to reveal her body for Ailes - is played for titillation, the camera lingering on Robbie's body, thus positioning the audience not with Kayla's terror but with Ailes' delight. I can't think of a more explicit example of liberal hypocrisy.

Bombshell is in UK/ROI cinemas January 17th.




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