[Content Warning: This review contains references to sexual harassment and assault.]
These are depressing times. Honestly, the effort of being alive and processing the world on the cusp of a new decade in 2019 is draining. More and more often I find myself reflecting on the infinite wisdom of The Good Place, “Every day the world gets a little more complicated and being a good person gets a little harder.”
This critic never could have imagined that BOMBSHELL would be the film that would best illustrate this concept. The world is made up of odd factors, personal agendas, and controversial figures and the noblest battles can still be fought in dark alleys. BOMBSHELL is the commentary befitting our current culture, for better or for worse.
Based on the real Fox News scandal, BOMBSHELL pulls back the curtain to reveal the bizarre and seedy underbelly of one of the media’s most powerful and controversial players. When enough is finally enough the women of Fox News, led by star anchor Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson, confront a long history of workplace sexual harassment by taking down an industry giant.
The film stars Margot Robbie, Nicole Kidman, John Lithgow, and Charlize Theron in a scary good performance as star Fox News anchor, Megyn Kelly. The director/writer team of Jay Roach and Charles Randolph is either a terrible fit or ironically perfect for this political drama. Both filmmakers have a pedigree in comedy and in HBO political series which may be why BOMBSHELL doesn’t feel like it can be taken seriously.
I’m all about girl power in my films, but BOMBSHELL has a sort of “pop feminist” approach that feels insincere when considering the characters involved and the many digs at feminism made within the film. The tone feels off for the subject matter and viewers are unsure of whether or not to watch the film as a tongue in cheek jab at Fox News or as a serious tackling of rampant workplace harassment.
Conflicting feelings and confusion aside, the performances of BOMBSHELL are certainly worth the price of admission. Margot Robbie manages to both sparkle and irritate in her take on an original character which, as it turns out, is the perfect combination to portray any Fox News figure. Nicole Kidman wields a quiet and subtle power in her role as Gretchen Carlson and, again, Charlize Theron’s transformation into Megyn Kelly is complete and on point.
Perhaps the greatest strength of BOMBSHELL is how profoundly uncomfortable it makes the viewer. Either by intentional design or happenstance, this film manages to get under the skin in a way that actually serves it quite well. It is very hard to root for the women of BOMBSHELL. They’re not likable, they’re not especially sympathetic, and they certainly do not meet the social standard of the “perfect victim.” That’s good.
Too often we allow our personal opinion of victims cloud our ability to see the seriousness of their assault. As a culture, we demand a higher standard out of victims of assault than we do out of their abuser. Too often our desire to seek justice is clouded by personal agenda and perception and that is exactly what BOMBSHELL is about. Wrongdoing is wrongdoing and harm is harm, regardless of how imperfect and controversial a victim may be.
Furthermore, BOMBSHELL delicately handles all of those considerations that we so often glaze over when giving the victim credibility. This is even-handedly applied across the three female leads to give a complete picture. Margot Robbie’s Kayla embodies the fear that comes from being harassed by a superior. In an instant, the chance at a career is put in jeopardy with the knowledge that you are a small cog and no one has any stake in your truth. When it comes to Megyn Kelly, her considerations are more complicated. She has a platform and the ability to weather the hit to her career, but if she goes down it will cost her entire staff their jobs. Nicole Kidman’s Gretchen Carlson answers the common question, “Why wait to report?” Sometimes the answer is as simple as civil procedure and how laws apply in different cases.
BOMBSHELL’s entire thesis statement is that scandals are born out of problematic figures in twisted and toxic environments. The line between right and wrong is blurry at best and completely erased under more dramatic circumstances. In this way, BOMBSHELL is incredibly effective at driving its point home.
However, that does not save the film from its fatal flaw: It’s hollow. As I mentioned before, there is something about BOMBSHELL that almost belittles the weight of what’s being discussed. The viewer never gets that satisfying sense of unity or the acknowledgment that this is a grave situation. For some reason, it just never quite feels that the film rises to the occasion of its own message.
This is made equally frustrating by the acknowledgment by Margot Robbie’s character that a platform can make all the difference. In the film, it is the voiceless that must turn to those with their own power to speak where they cannot. That is what BOMBSHELL could have been and, though I can’t quite put my finger on it, it falls short and is incredibly frustrating to process.
Verdict? BOMBSHELL is just as complicated and split on agenda and message as reality itself. It leaves the viewer with clenched jaw and fist, but not always for the right reasons. Truthfully, each audience will have a different read of this film and it’s sure to be hotly contested among film fans once it arrives.
The BOMBSHELL drops in theaters on December 20!