Synopsis: Examination of sexual harassment at Fox News.
Bombshell is the story of journalist Gretchen Carlson’s 2016 lawsuit against her boss, Fox News chair Roger Ailes. Among the charges, Carlson maintained that when she complained to Ailes about the hostile environment on the morning show “Fox & Friends” on which she was a co-host, Ailes called her a “man hater.” The movie and print media include plenty of sexual harassment accounts from various women over the years. Here’s one about this creep… In the 1980’s, TV producer Randi Harrison reported that Ailes said he would give her an extra $100 week if she would have sex with him “whenever I want.” Blech! Clearly he didn’t understand– or care– that she was a news professional and not a prostitute. But also, doesn’t it seem woefully out of touch with whatever the prostitution hourly rate would likely have been?
Bombshell recreates the NYC Fox news headquarters and assembles a boatload of talented actors as the major players in the story. Ah, there’s Richard Kind as Rudy Giuliani, Malcolm McDowell as Rupert Murdoch, etc. But the story belongs to the women: Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly, Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson and Margot Robbie as a composite character.
Nicole Kidman’s Gretchen Carlson wears a wig that looks like it was baked in an oven then thrown into a pail of bleach. She’s forced to giggle at sexist on-air putdowns and remain civil when Ailes ogles and scolds her during meetings.
Margot Robbie, who got a best supporting actress nod from Oscar, is a pretend person: Kayla, a stand-in for all of the ambitious young women who hoped to make it at Fox as on-air journalists. Initially, Fox News is right where she wants to be, she’s a Christian with right wing politics and believes in the network’s mission: bringing “fair and balanced news” to folks who have had to endure coastal elites’ presentation of the facts. As the viewers see it anyway…
But where is producer Charlize Theron in all of this? If you were watching Bombshell without prior knowledge of casting, it would be like a “Where’s Waldo?” search. It seems as though Megyn Kelly is playing herself in the movie. But no, it’s Charlize, who looks and sounds just like Megyn Kelly! Credit goes to her exemplary acting and to makeup artists Kazu Hiro along with Anne Morgan and Vivian Baker who won Academy Awards for their efforts.
Charlize received a well-deserved Best Actress nomination from Oscar, playing Ms. Kelly with a steely nerve and sharp mind. Bombshell recreates the August 2015 Republican primary debate in which moderator Kelly asks Trump about his misogynistic remarks about women. Soon after, Trump harangues her on twitter, but she doesn’t flinch. Once she hears about Carlson’s suit against Ailes, the script shows her maneuvering behind the scenes. Publicly, Kelly stays quiet while privately she is shown purposefully striding around, gripping her cell whilst urging others to speak up. All the while she is in the “Fox woman” uniform: cinched into short dresses, wearing high heels. Because that’s what Roger Ailes likes. Ick!
John Lithgow plays Ailes with the help of prosthetic makeup & a fake belly. Nonetheless we can tell it’s Lithgow because of his voice’s unmistakable timbre. What a fine job he does playing a lascivious creep. When any of the women staff meet with him in his office, he’s enthroned in a chair like Jabba the Hutt, intoning that TV is a “visual medium” (code for: show me your body) and gassing on about the loyalty he expects (code for: blowjobs). Guess what he really wants when he invites Margot Robbie’s Kayla to his office to talk about her career.
Ailes, much like another notorious creeper, Harvey Weinstein, got away with sexual harassment and discrimination for years. He bet on his power/threats to keep women quiet. What he didn’t bet on was a woman strategizing and building a case behind the scenes in order to expose him. Gretchen Carlson is a Stanford grad and Megyn Kelly is an attorney, but to Ailes, with his head in the Dark Ages, a mere woman couldn’t outsmart him.
Bombshell lionizes Carlson & Kelly, leaving out any widely reported controversial remarks made on-air. Carlson is shown risking her boss’ ire when she announces that she favors banning assault weapons. Her on-air pushbacks against LGBTQ rights aren’t shown.
Kelly, as was widely reported, did confirm that she had been sexually harassed by Ailes. For example, at one workplace meeting, he kept trying to grab and kiss her. Yechhh! In another incident, she recounted a conversation in which he speculated that she must have some very sexy bras and he’d like to see her in them. Ugh, time to vomit.
For years, sexual harassment and discrimination had been essentially dismissed as inevitable and victims had no redress. In the United Kingdom, the Sex Discrimination 1975 and Protection from Harassment Act 1997 addressed these issues. While in the United States, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited employment discrimination based on sex, color, national origin or religion. But it’s been an uphill battle with many women fearing backlash for pursuing charges. Many women in the world have few defenses in the workplace; more than a third of countries have no laws against sexual harassment. Sorry, no jokes here. If you want to see something that makes light of workplace harassment, check out The Proposal. Sandra Bullock’s mean boss is about to get booted from the US back to her native Canada until she gets the idea to have one of her underlings, Ryan Reynolds, a US citizen, marry her. Ha, Ha (I guess) because now he’s in charge. The whole thing is meta bc, IRL, Sandy B. is American & Ryan is Canadian!
Bombshell shines a light on a high profile sexual harassment case, exploring the risks of coming forward in a sexist work environment. It happened at Fox news, but it happens everywhere. Apropos the actors of Bombshell, Margot Robbie has discussed women in film fighting through degrading situations and objectification, Nicole Kidman proffered that her marriage to a high-powered actor (Tom Cruise) gave her a degree of protection and Charlize Theron detailed a casting couch situation where she was pressured and stroked by a director early in her career.
Bombshell is a worthy addition to the relatively small group of movies about sexual harassment that include The Invisible War (docu on female soldiers raped by male soldiers in the US military), Nine to Five (classic comedy wherein women employees get back at their harassing male boss) and Horrible Bosses (Jennifer Aniston’s dentist character harasses her male assistant). And don’t forget Fantine in Les Miz — she was sexually harassed by her singing boss! That fictional guy got away with his harassment, but in Bombshell, you’ll be glad to see that a real life bad guy got his comeuppance.
Movie Loon’s Movie Review Shortcut:
Cut to the Chase: Fine acting, and the dialog will have you wondering who gave intel to screenwriter Charles Randolph. (Too bad we didn’t have a woman screenwriter’s take on the subject.)
Humor Highlight: Women Fox News employees fall over themselves to prove they aren’t feminists or liberals. One assistant tells Ailes’ wife that her sushi order isn’t a liberal thing.
P.S. Bombshell star Charlize Theron first delved into exploring cases of sexual harassment in North Country, in which she depicted Lois Jensen, an iron worker who sued the company she worked for in 1997 (Jenson v Eveleth Taconite Co.) after enduring years of sexual harassment, threats and intimidation from male colleagues who didn’t want any women working with them.
P.P.S. In an interview on Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show in 2016, Megyn Kelly told the host, “I don’t like that word: feminist…I think it’s alienating.” Well, I like it because it means that a person believes in gender equality. Here’s a random list of celebs who identify as feminists: Charlize Theron… Nicole Kidman…Margot Robbie…Emma Watson…Beyonce…Claire Danes…Shonda Rhimes…Mindy Kaling…Amandla Stenberg…Joseph Gordon-Levitt…Ellen Page… Patrick Stewart…
In 2011 the United Nations launched its HeforShe initiative, a program that enlists men as allies in recognizing equality. Emma Watson was the ambassador for the program. Men who came out for the cause include… Forest Whitaker… Farhan Akhtar…Tom Hiddleston…Benedict Cumberbatch…Logan Lerman…Mark Ruffalo…Emile Hirsch…Prince Harry…Chris Colfer…David Tennant…Eddie Redmayne…Simon Pegg…