Who needs tonal consistency?
Bombshell (2019): A group of women take on Fox News head Roger Ailes and the toxic atmosphere he presided over at the network.
I’m not really sure what I just saw. Bombshell is a film devoid of purpose or meaning. On the one hand, it tells the naturally dramatic story of the women of Fox News courageously rising up and speaking out against the harassment of Roger Ailes. There are some harrowing moments that come along with this story, and it’s sold by the determined, paranoid, dogmatic performance of John Lithgow in great makeup as Ailes. But, on the other hand…. How director Jay Roach and screenwriter Charles Randolph choose to portray this story is… puzzling, to say the least. The film is a tonal catastrophe. One second, we’re watching a disturbing sequence between Kayla (Margot Robbie portraying a conglomerate character of the women Roger abused at Fox News) and Ailes, the next we’re cracking jokes with Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) and watching her grapple with a weird semi-hero’s journey. What?
Lets talk about what Bombshell gets right. Its story is gripping and dramatic. (Shocker, right?) Gretchen Carlson’s (Nicole Kidman) storyline is very captivating. Unfortunately, it’s largely secondary to Megyn Kelly’s, which is understandable (since Gretchen signed an NDA in real life when she settled her lawsuit against Ailes) but also frustrating. Gretchen Carlson’s calm, coordinated plan to take down the most powerful man in the media industry was significantly more interesting than Megyn Kelly grappling with setting her personal ambition aside to do the right thing. (Positive things. Positive things….) Carlson is played with a cool, collected demeanor by Nicole Kidman in the strongest of the core three performances. (Kidman, Theron, and Robbie) Additionally, the makeup in this film is AMAZING. Lithgow, Kidman, and Theron disappear into Ailes, Carlson, and Kelly thanks to some excellent makeup and great costume design. (Colleen Atwood strikes again) However, the makeup around Megyn Kelly was a bit inconsistent at times. It felt rushed in a few places, like much of this film, and made me very aware that I was watching Charlize Theron play Megyn Kelly. However, when it worked, it worked.
Let’s talk about Megyn Kelly for a second, shall we? Bombshell tries to ride a fine line with this character – not making her out to be hero while having her simultaneously embark on a hero’s journey – and I do not believe it does this successfully. Too many times Kelly is glorified while grappling with a basic moral quandary, with the reminder that she is largely to blame for letting Ailes abuse and harass women while she sat silent in a seat of power only being mentioned once in the film by Kayla. Too often is Kelly cracking jokes in uncomfortable moments, or having a sympathetic moment being harassed by Trump supporters in her million dollar villa for me to not feel like she was being somewhat glorified for her actions. Yes, it takes great courage for anyone to come forward and upend their lives, and she did play a crucial role in bringing down Roger Ailes, but to sit silent for that long is equally troublesome. I don't know. It felt.... uncomfortable, and to simultaneously glorify her definitely turned me off. Also, we need to talk about Kayla. She is a conglomerate of all the women at Fox News abused by Ailes over the years, but she is a rather poorly written character with narrow, underdeveloped perspectives. She also has a romance with Jess Carr (Kate McKinnon) that is mentioned and dropped immediately? Huh? Actually, Jess Carr as a whole…what is she doing in this film at all? What is her purpose? She has a fascinating perspective to offer – a closeted lesbian / democrat working at Fox News – but has approximately 10 minutes of screen time and one scene to flesh this out. What a complete waste of a character. (And Kate McKinnon – sigh.)
And that’s the ironic summary of this film. A fascinating story largely wasted on tonal inconsistencies (and pacing… my God is the pacing all over the place) and, well, Megyn Kelly. Solid acting, great makeup, and a harrowing performance by John Lithgow (seriously – bless his heart for falling on the sword and playing Ailes. He goes all-in on this role too) are forgotten in a haze of uncomfortable jokes, shoddy editing, and overall just going too much like The Big Short. (Yup, addressing the elephant in the room finally.) This film is trying to hard to be another The Big Short, and I’m beginning to think The Big Short really did catch lightning in a bottle. This style has been tried several times now since then, both by The Big Short director Adam McKay (see: Vice) and others, but it has never had the same gravitas or effectiveness. Also, maaaaaaybe it would’ve been helpful to have a woman take a pass at this script. Just saying.
My Number: 4/10
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