Now on Hulu, Bombshell Oscar-baited itself into the conversation late in 2019 — about 20,000 news cycles ago — and told the story of the sexual harassment scandal at Fox News that started brewing in 2015 — about 20 million news cycles ago — and eventually resulted in the ouster of squidge-oozing CEO Roger Ailes. Frankly, even before COVID-19 changed the world, the story felt simultaneously too soon and too old to be relevant, so director Jay Roach assembled a super-stellar cast to draw us in anyway. It didn’t win any Oscars despite three nods, and never really caught fire at the box office, but maybe it’s worth a curiosity stream now that it’s out of the VOD/rental bracket.
BOMBSHELL: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: Fox News personality Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) talks directly to the camera for a minute, but never does it again. She just drilled not-yet-president Donald Trump during the Republican primary debate for his multiple sexual-harassment and -abuse allegations, which is a major no-no when you’re a conservative-media superstar. Meanwhile, Fox News star-on-the-outs Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) grumbles and gripes about being moved to a dead-afternoon time slot for occasionally presenting a reasonable viewpoint that doesn’t adhere to her corporate overlords’ sexist horsecrap. Her boss, Roger Ailes (John Lithgow), chews her out as he chows on one, no, two, but actually three, now four doughnuts from the catering table.
Ailes likes to yell, so we see him yelling. That woman needs a shorter skirt, he yells. Go to the wide shot so we can see her legs, he bellows. Toiling in a basement cubicle is cheery-faced newb Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), who dreams of landing a spot in front of the camera; she eyes a route through blowhard Bill O’Reilly’s (Kevin Dorff) primetime show and touts herself by saying, “I see myself as an influencer in the Jesus space!” She befriends coworker Jess Carr (Kate McKinnon) and, next thing you know, they’re romping in Jess’ bed beneath her Hillary Clinton poster. Whoops! She’s a closeted lib who started working at Fox News because she needed a job and now nobody else will hire her.
Trump tries to ransack Kelly’s career with a barrage of abusive, bullying tweets, although she eventually sort of almost smooths things over with him on the air even though she was subject to public abuse and invasions of privacy because of him. Carlson gets axed, but she saw it coming; she had lawyers on deck just waiting to sue Ailes for sexually objectifying her, and she wagers on rumors that other women at Fox were treated poorly by this pathetic, grotesque, disgustingly rich, powermad pig-dog. Kelly has a similar story, and isn’t sure whether she should back Carlson or not. And poor Jess finally gets a one-on-one with the old man who blubbers when people call him Jabba the Hutt — and then he pressures her to hike up her skirt for him.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Bombshell lands in a no-man’s-land between the wiseass black comedy of Adam McKay’s Vice, the bio-farce of Oliver Stone’s W. and a straightforward political-scandal drama.
Performance Worth Watching: I can’t tell you how accurate the impersonations are, because I never subjected myself to Carlson or Kelly or any of that Fox News manure. I value my sanity, thank you. So for my dollar, McKinnon gives the most earnest, least bullshitty performance in the movie and I wish she had been in it more.
Memorable Dialogue: “Frighten, titillate. Frighten, titillate. Frighten, titillate.” — Jess sums up the overall Fox News modus operandi
Sex and Skin: Just that uncomfortable, upsetting harassment scene.
Our Take: Bombshell is ostensibly a Kelly biopic; it gives her two-thirds of a character, her blanks filled in reasonably by Theron’s sturdy performance. Pospisil — a composite of real-life people — and Carlson get less than that, and the film stretches, strains and meanders in its attempt to tell their stories too. Director Jay Roach and screenwriter Charles Randolph never establish an engaging tone, be it satire or serious or a dysfunctional conglomeration of the two. The movie is sort of funny in its unintentional distractions: cast members gummed up with mostly unnecessary prosthetics and overcooked vocal affectations; drop-ins by actors playing serial doofuses Geraldo Rivera, Rudy Giuliani and Kimberly Guilfoyle; and schadenfreude, so much schadenfreude. Schadenfreude alone makes one want Roach to keep going and dramatize Bill O’Reilly’s disgrace too.
Of course, the #MeToo movement shouldn’t be addressed with glib snark, but the screenplay does little to address the social complexities and psychological fallout of abuse. It ekes out here and there in Theron and Robbie’s performances, then moves on to the next plot point. These women didn’t deserve this treatment; then again, they’re not exactly heroes in the great modern American milieu. The film seems content to shoot fish in a barrel and mock the Fox News sensationalist propaganda machine, yet doesn’t seem interested in examining the cognitive dissonance required to be female and work there. It settles for a running joke that Kelly “is NOT a feminist!” despite the obviously feminist angles she takes on Trump.
Appropriately for the mess that Bombshell is, that running joke is dropped before it has an opportunity to mean anything. The movie is scattered and episodic, and lacks dramatic oomph — no build-up, no denouement, just a meager revelation at the end of a suspense-free string of events, wrapped up with a postscript reframing its female subjects as having knocked King Kong from his throne. It never really earns that postscript. The movie is mildly engrossing for those of us who feel compelled to watch the dots be connected to form a picture we’ve already seen.
Our Call: SKIP IT. Bombshell never transcends the curiosity-watch classification. It’s a mostly empty experience, and feels like stunt filmmaking.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com or follow him on Twitter: @johnserba.
The post Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Bombshell’ on Hulu, an Empty, Sensationalist Take on the Takedown of Male Chauvinism appeared first on Decider.