Sean and I have had our eye on a tiny, forgotten movie theatre in the basement of a local shopping mall. It only shows films during mall hours, and it’s strictly second-run stuff: this is where movies go to die, these are their last breaths at the box office, and the last chance Sean and I will have to see them in theatres before the Oscars which ARE THIS WEEKEND. It’s where we saw Richard Jewell last week and it’s where we caught Bombshell this week. It came out just before Christmas, and between holiday prep and Rise of Skywalker, we never got around to it. Plus, word was that it was kind of a lame movie that housed some good performances. Of course once those Oscar nominations came out, the movie went from back burner to the pressure cooker: see 38 movies before February 9th, some of which aren’t in theatres and hardly where, and certainly not in this country or in a language that I speak (and that’s not counting the shorts!).
So when I finally got around to seeing Bombshell, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. True, Bombshell is all flame and no burning embers; it deals with the headline-grabbing sexual harassment case at Fox News circa 2016 and though it does justice to the headlines, it doesn’t offer up a lot of meat. However, it does an excellent job of spreading the heat and accounting for the experience of many.
Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) is right in the middle of the blast. Having been with Fox in one capacity or another for years, Gretchen finds herself demoted, and reprimanded for covering stories deemed by network president Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) to be ‘too feminist’ and criticized for not upholding beauty standards when she dares to do one episode makeup-free. She’s seen the writing on the wall and when she’s let go in June of 2016, she’s ready with a lawsuit accusing Ailes of sexual harassment. She’s confident that once she breaks the ice, other women will come forward, but she’s forgetting just how pervasive the culture is at Fox news.
Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), Roger’s golden girl, the tough reporter recently taking heat for questioning Trump’s behaviour toward women during a debate, has remained silent. No support for Gretchen, but none for Roger either, though the entirety of the organization seems to pressure her. Instead, she’s searching for the truth, quietly speaking with other women about their own experiences. Eventually she’ll make her way to Kayla (Margot Robbie), a composite character of a new girl trying to climb her way up the ladder. It’s pretty clear whose “ladder” she’ll have to “climb” in order to get anywhere – but ambition and livelihoods are inextricably tangled up in this thing, and it’s fairly clear that any woman who comes forward will have a permanent stain on her record, untouchable by any other network for having dared to make a complaint against her boss. That’s just not something women are allowed to get away with.
It’s shocking, actually, that it’s the women of Fox of all places that really got something done. They haven’t toppled the patriarchy; there were plenty of other white men to replace Ailes in more ways than one. Director Jay Roach shows how pervasive the boys’ club can be, and how women have been denied their own network by constantly being pitted against each other. There’s too much history here for any one film, too much damage to uncover let alone comprehend. Still, I like the attempt. I like all three of these performances even if Kidman got shut out of awards season. What I dislike is that this very important story told (written and directed) by men. Which kind of misses the point altogether.