Charlize Theron produces – and stars in – Bombshell’s tale of three women taking down Roger Ailes. However, her transformation into divisive anchor isn’t exactly likeable…
Three blondes in an elevator. Three white, blonde conservative women at Fox News in an elevator and never has a scene been so fantastically tense. Hardly any dialogue but plenty was said. It was the teaser that the film led with, it’s the shot of the three leads that is publicised and it’s the scene that I’m still thinking about.
Bombshell is a sexual abuse drama but with a twist. A punchy script penned by Charles Randolph (The Big Short), filmed in a documentary style that breaks the fourth wall (yes, like Fleabag people) showing us how the CEO of Fox News, Roger Ailes (John Lithgow), was toppled from his festering kingdom. It’s not the first time Ailes and his systemic abuse of women has been dramatised. Showtime series The Loudest Voice, which aired just last year and won Russell Crowe a Golden Globe (When They See Us’s Jharrel Jerome was robbed, in my humble opinion) was met with mixed reviews.
Going in, you think you pretty much know what happened – a simple ‘man abuses power and women’ equals ‘victim’ equation. But the Charlize Theron- produced film is not that. Theron, who plays ‘star’ of the network Megyn Kelly, is the not-so-typical lead. She’s not a feminist and makes a point of telling us again and again. God forbid you work at Fox News and say you’re a feminist. And she’s divisive – a scene in which she remarked that Santa Claus, an imaginary figure, is white and can only be white was slipped in quietly. So, there goes the likeability factor. Yet during a 2016 presidential debate, she holds Trump accountable for his many misogynistic comments about women and is met with a deluge of trolling from her own network’s viewers. Where is Ailes to back her now?
There are other key players including Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), a former Miss America who was bumped off a primetime slot when she dared to address the sexism at the establishment and sues Ailes himself for sexual harassment. Then there is Kayla (played by the chameleon Margot Robbie) and the only one of the three women who is not an actual person but a combination of real women who spoke up.
Kayla is conservative to the core and eager for Ailes to notice her as a serious anchor woman contender. And, unfortunately for her, he does. Suing lecherous, disgusting, revolting Ailes (there aren’t enough adjectives) doesn’t achieve the domino effect that Carlson wanted, but definitely makes some noise and gets Kelly’s attention as well as those higher up.
The toxic work environment is horrific, but some scenes prompt laughs from the audience, particularly that which reveals trousers are banned for all female on-screen talent… unless express permission has been granted from the dreaded second floor (aka Ailes’ lair), that is. Those moments when Ailes calls from his office to the control room and insists on wide shots that capture anchor-womens’ legs are humorously shown, too – but they still retain their foul tone.
Theron, Robbie and Kidman are three women at different points in their career, but it’s fine performances all around – and the former two are hugely deserving of their Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominations. I also think a special shout-out needs to go to the team behind the transformative prosthetics applied to Theron’s face: it’s not a Monster-level transformation, but it’s pretty close.
In my opinion, there is one big issue with this film. As it shines a spotlight on the Fox network, I believe the alienating comments of Carlson and Kelly should have been addressed in more detail – rather than as flippant asides.
Yes, these women may have achieved something incredible, but they remain anti-heroes at best. Take Kelly’s infamous black face controversy, for example: while the bulk of this scandal came out after she departed Fox, the anchor made many similar statements during her time at the network – the most alarming of which being that victim of police brutality Michael Brown may have had a hand in his own murder.
If we want to tell the truth, we need to tell the whole truth. So a note to Bombshell producers: give us a more honest depiction than universally palatable one next time, please.
Mayran Yusuf is a film critic who loves nothing better than a good scroll of @TheShaderoom on Instagram and a sucker for any drama that BBC flings out. Series link at the ready!
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