“Tonally confused; Bombshell misses the mark.” Katie Jones reviews Jay Roach’s most recent film.
Bombshell (2019) covers the 2016 downfall of Fox’s Roger Ailes in the wake of the many allegations of sexual abuse brought against him by a number of his staff at Fox News. We follow Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) as she leaves Fox and builds her case against Ailes, Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) and her feud with Trump during the 2016 Presidential campaign, and Margot Robbie as composite character Kayla Pospisil representing the many fresh-faced women who are taken advantage of, whose responses to Ailes sexual advances could progress or damn their career. We see the system enable Ailes, and the bullying culture in which you must group together and protect your own – you can always back-track and claim ignorance.
Theron’s portrayal of Kelly is the best part of the film. She completely disappears into the role, making Kelly likable and empathic. As she wrestles with whether to speak out against Ailes or stay loyal to Fox and protect her job, you feel sorry for her to such a degree you almost forget her racism which the film chooses to ignore. Carlson is similarly sanitised. Nonetheless, Kidman gives an effective performance – appropriately bitter, angry, and determined to make change. Robbie as the doe-eyed Kayla Pospisil is equal parts heartbreaking and frustrating. It is hard to like these characters as people, but you still feel for them. And maybe that is the point. Praise has to be given to Vivian Baker who lead her team of hair and make-up artists to transform our three stars into the perfect blonde Fox News Angels.
The clash is uncomfortable and cheapens the seriousness of the moment
Director Jay Roach’s biggest problem is tone. It is played as part camp satire, part serious drama and the balance isn’t quite right. He seems to be going for a ‘get them laughing so when it becomes serious it really hits’ thing but it just doesn’t land. This is most evident in the relationship between Jess Carr (Kate McKinnon) and Kayla. The closeted democrat and the Christian Instagram Influencer makes for a comically unlikely pairing. When Kayla confesses her assault to Jess, Robbie is giving a moving dramatic performance yet, McKinnon appears to have one foot still in satire. The clash is uncomfortable and cheapens the seriousness of the moment.
Roach would have been more successful to commit either to a Spotlight (2015) style drama or have a larger portion of the film as a satire. The fourth wall breaks are also inconsistent. In opening the film they set a level of self-awareness that is not continued throughout. By the end, they feel almost accidental, as if Kidman did not quite know where her eyelines were supposed to be. Had they been used with more intention, they could have helped the audience reflect on how they uphold systems of abuse in their own lives. Roach never managed to fully reconcile that these women enabled the system that was used against them by working at Fox News.
On paper, this film has it all – important subject matter, great cast, interesting perspective, and non-traditional approach but it doesn’t quite come together to form a cohesive piece of cinema
This confusion carries into the ending. Roach places Rupert Murdoch as a hero of sorts that refuses to allow Ailes to say his goodbyes in person. Murdoch swoops in and saves Fox News and the newsroom celebrates. The only person we see unsure is Jess who places the photo of her and her friend (possibly girlfriend) back in her desk. This is supposed to indicate that nothing truly changes, only the man in power. But this comes from Jess who has been our comic relief much of the way through so the confusion remains.
On paper, this film has it all – important subject matter, great cast, interesting perspective, and non-traditional approach but it doesn’t quite come together to form a cohesive piece of cinema. This makes for a frustrating watch as it is so nearly very good, but just falls short.