Director Jay Roach
Screenplay Charles Randolph
Starring Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Mark Duplass, Connie Britton, Rob Delaney, Kate McKinnon, Malcolm McDowell, Allison Janney
The great stretch of the 2010’s is comedy directors like Adam McKay and Jay Roach taking on the new subject of primarily left wing politics. Both are reasonably good at showing their subjects in a human, and ultimately failing light. Neither one of these directors are what one would consider unfair in their approach. They really do attempt to take the most honest approach as possible. Still, if one’s color palette includes mostly primary colors, the grays in the corner can be missed.
What I expected in watching Bombshell involved a lot more blatant characters like the trailers’ heavily featured Jess Carr as played by Kate McKinnon. Hers is a character that is hip to the square of her work environment. She is a lesbian Democrat who is voting for Hillary. She knows the corporation she works for is designed to ‘titillate and scare’ old people. She works for this horrible organization because she couldn’t get a job elsewhere. Now with this experience, she still can’t get a job elsewhere, but for a different reason. You see, no one respects Fox in the real news world.
The character is essentially worthless in showing the viewer anything beyond what they bring to the theater with them. If there had been even one more character like her in this film, it would have torpedoed itself into oblivion. Robbie’s Kayla Pospisil is a ghost character “based on many people.” She serves every purpose the writer needs to connect dots that otherwise might be complicated. That she is connected to McKinnon’s Carr allows the viewer to feel like they’re watching Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in 9 to 5 again. Only that film is a comedy that hints at reality, and this film is supposed to be dramatically true.
Bombshell is more than this, fortunately. The performances of much of the rest of the cast is superb at showing the realities of one of the big moments in the #metoo era without even mentioning the phrase. Randolph and Roach do the important job of asking questions instead of shouting answers.
Nuance is hard to find in the era of Trump derangement syndrome. As easy as it is to present the reprehensible Ailes in the full light of bleach, the filmmakers smartly avoid this shortcut. One does not simply place the immensely talented John Lithgow in a fat suit and have him start pinching asses. Lithgow does the impossible and makes Ailes look like a man in full. He blusters and shouts. He is smarter than hell. He knows sex sells. He also thinks his way into a box that makes sexual assault a transaction that expresses “loyalty.” The viewer can find themselves repulsed by the predatory nature, yet still amazed to see his clear thinking of the Trump “…bleeding from her eyes or wherever…” comment convince Theron’s Megyn Kelly is worth all of the hate mail.
Right there with him is Britton’s Beth Ailes. She knows the score, but she will fight to the death for the meal ticket. She believes the bull Ailes is pushing as a matter of right and wrong. They’re right, because look at the success! Everyone wanting to take apart what it is that made that success can go to hell. Smartly, we don’t see the wall between Beth Ailes and the world crumble even slightly. A lesser actress and director would have had her add to the pile of the aggrieved.
As Kelly, Theron approaches the best performance of her career. She is an amalgamation of the old and new world. She is an increasingly logical force within her team of young idealogues. She is open to ideas, but not looking for affirmation. She loves what she is doing and views herself as a straight news person. Once Kidman’s Gretchen Carlson opens Pandora’s Box, her world is complicated. She has information that could help the cause. She also has not only her career to think about, but she has the family of her team depending on her decisions.
Theron balances all of these complexities and manages to pull off an amazing impersonation at the same time. If there is one person this film is worthy of a nomination, it is her.
Kidman’s take on Carlson is an interesting one. She looks odd and sounds even more strange. She doesn’t sound at all like the real Gretchen. If it weren’t for the square jawed honesty and intelligence she gives to the part, one might believe she was lampooning. The end result is powerful enough to cause a shudder in the viewer when they see her make eye contact with her daughter. This is why it matters. This is why we need to get this right, no matter the politics.
Which brings me back to Roach. He’s biased, one can see he’s basically a fair story teller. The desire to give a balanced and honest assessment is essential to understanding the old ways we are leaving to the new world yet to come. Carlson and Kelly want the same things for their daughters as I want for mine.
(**** out of *****)