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Bombshell (2019)


Bombshell is a retelling of the story of the downfall of Roger Ailes as part of the #metoo movement. Roger Ailes exchanged career advancement for sexual favor for years. The film focuses on Megyn Kelly between the Cleveland GOP presidential debate and the Cleveland RNC in 2016. The movie is intended to generate a rage-boner against Fox News and its role in getting President Trump elected. It was written by Charles Randolph, who also wrote The Big Short. Jay Roach directed the film. He also directed all three Austin Powers films, Meet the Parents, and a few more adult comedies.

The cast is a who’s who of Hollywood. I assume the pitch was, ‘Do you hate Trump and Fox News? Then you should be in this film.’ I think you should skip this film, so here is the cast and something better to watch them in:

Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly, The Old Guard (2020)

Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson, The Others (2001)

Margot Robbie as Kayla Pospisil, Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood (2019) or I, Tonya

John Lithgow as Roger Ailes, Shrek

Allison Janney as Susan Estrich, The West Wing or I, Tonya

Kate McKinnon as Jess Carr, Yesterday (2019)

Rob Delaney as Gil Norman, Catastrophe

Bombshell is a surface-level retelling of the ‘talent’ side of the Fox News sexual harassment story. I believe what these women have claimed to be true, so I do not need to hear the ‘management’ or Roger Ailes' side of the story. I would be interested to learn more about the internal politics of the newsroom and to get a better sense of internal politics that do not 100% focus on Ailes. The film mostly focuses on Megyn Kelly’s debate about coming forward, but only after she finds enough other women who were also victims. She did not seem to have the courage to be the second voice but was fine being the 23rd. Gretchen Carlson’s heroics feel downplayed in contrast to Kelly. Carlson started the lawsuit against Ailes personally and secretly recorded conversations, something you do not explicitly see in the film. One scene of hiding a microphone or even turning on the phone recorder would have been nice.

Jess Carr and Kayla Pospisil are made-up characters for the movie, but they are informed by real events. Carr is a closeted gay liberal working at Fox because it was the only job she could get and now can’t leave for another network. Pospisil is a wide-eyed, bi-sexual, blonde bombshell trying to get on the air. She becomes another victim of Ailes. Adding in two made-up characters to embody off-the-record recounts of internal on-goings feels cheap. There are NDAs in place because of the $50 million settlement; Ailes and O’Reilly received severance of $65 million. I think Charles Randolph could have found more real names or expanded into an ensemble cast and not a distillation into two characters.

I did take a new perspective on Fox News thanks to Jess Carr. The slogan ‘Fair and Balanced’ is realistic. I have not heard anyone dispute that the News content of Fox News is fair. The News department is separate from the editorial department. The Editorial department does provide balance to CNN and MSNBC even if you don’t agree with it. That is not enough justification for the entire film.

The best part of the film aside from Carr’s explanation of the logo is that it is only 88 minutes long. It is a short watch to justify its lack of depth. The #metoo movement is an important step forward in a more inclusive work environment for women. The men, and women, in places of power that took advantage of women trying to advance their careers, need to be removed from power and permanently sidelined. Roger Ailes was sidelined, granted he got a golden parachute. A better movie would focus less on a single perpetrator but more on the team that it took to cover up that leader’s actions. This film had an expiration date of about a week after it was released. I watched on the eve of President Biden’s inauguration. Trump is no longer president and the rage this movie tries to draw by reliving the Fox sent Trump to the front of the GOP field is played out. Maybe I should have watched this before voting in November. I did get a rage-boner from this film, but it was after the fact as I was expressing my opinion. This story does not deserve an almost feature-length film. The positive spin put on Kelly and Carlson is still problematic for the intended audience of this film. Fox News fans are not going to turn off the station because of this movie. If anything, the removal of the two men at the center of it gives cover for the network no longer having a pervasive environment of sexual harassment and assault. Go read any of the numerous long-form journalism articles about this subject and skip the movie.

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