Bombshell (2019)


Food: I did not get anything to eat this time, but got to try a new bar in Williamsburg called Hotel Delmano, which has a cool atmosphere – quiet, cozy, and chic. I split a bottle of the Tempranillo from Spain, called ‘Arenisca’ which was flavorful, berried and light.

Film: Jay Roach’s “Bombshell” is a masterpiece unlike any of his previous work. Led by a sweeping female cast, this film takes a look inside one of the most controversial media empires of our time, and the fall of the man who built it. Written meticulously by ‎Charles Randolph, “Bombshell” examines the lives of three very different women with very similar stories.

The film centers around Megyn Kelly, a correspondent for Fox News in real life, portrayed here eerily by Charlize Theron. She becomes Megyn Kelly entirely. We are introduced to the story through a series of shots that splice actual footage with revelatory narration from Kelly as she struts through the Fox News studio and corporate offices, occasionally breaking the fourth wall. Theron matches Kelly’s lower vocal register perfectly, and she has physically transformed so magnificently that it is difficult to remember that you are watching a performance, and not Kelly herself.

In a meeting, an assistant passes along a large binder labeled “Trump and Women” for Kelly to peruse before QAing the Republican Primary Debates that night. It is August of 2015, before Trump was President, before the #MeToo Movement, and before Roger Ailes was taken down for sexually harassing and assaulting women in his office for years. The film is set up to the tone of a “Big-Short-esque” political satire, but takes less time to dig into the darker and heavier aspects of the material.

The film is a historical piece, but it still resides in such recent memory, it somehow feels jarring to relive each incredibly shocking and memorable moment on the big screen already. Well-researched and thoroughly meshed with documented media, we are reminded of all the cultural events leading up to the scandal, including the feud that started between Kelly and Trump that night. The one that prompted him to outrageously remark, “There was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.” Despite the backlash, Fox quickly urges Kelly to play amicable with Trump to appease their viewer base who are predominantly Trump supporters.

Next, we are following Gretchen Carlson, played remarkably by Nicole Kidman, facing criticism and demotions, she fights to hold onto her position at Fox. She speaks to the audience with more abandon, her anger surfacing as she regales the “lessons” she has learned from Roger Ailes (played chillingly by John Lithgow), Fox News chairman and CEO. “To get ahead, you gotta give a little head,” she recites, explaining his version of loyalty.

Accompanying these two well-known leads, “Bombshell” introduces a new character that is fictional, based off an amalgamation of people who chose to remain anonymous. Her name is Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), an evangelical Fox enthusiast who has just moved from Florida, to take her seat as a low level producer, next to Jess Carr (Kate McKinnon) whom she quickly befriends. Robbie masters a pristine American accent here (this is the first time I’ve heard this from her when she is not able to rely on the Brooklyn pronunciation). Kayla moves swiftly from her spot on Gretchen Carlson’s segment to Bill O’Reilly’s team, dreaming of scoring a position in front of the camera. Her relationship with Carr develops physically, allowing conversations around Fox’s disapproval of the gay community to exist within the film. In some ways their relationship feels like a forced sub-plot, but conversely it also gives the audience a point of entry into the story.  The two of them giggling and gossiping post-hookup is a welcome calm before the storm.

When Kayla is asked to see Roger Ailes in his office, she bounces in excitably, wide-eyed and talkative, promotion looming in her mind. Then, Robbie and Lithgow wade through the film’s most difficult scene. Ailes asks Kayla to stand and twirl – a solicitation he was known for – and then shifts seamlessly into a request for her to lift her skirt higher… and higher… and higher. Robbie masks a professional grin, while her eyes melt in horror and fear. It’s a mesmerizing performance, showcasing her acting chops with nuance and precision.

When Carlson decides to come forward and sue Ailes for sexual harassment, Fox News begins to implode, and “Bombshell” exemplifies the way that women in these circumstances are pitted against each other. Megyn Kelly is forced to reckon with her silence. Allison Janney delivers a small, but delightfully croaking performance as Ailes’ lawyer. Alanna Ubach comes in guns-a-blazing as a victim-blaming Jeanine Pirro. The entire film is laced with all-too-familiar remarks that we’ve become accustomed to hearing, particularly in the face of sexual harassment cases, such as one “can’t take a joke.”

All the voluble action marches forward, fast paced and full steam ahead, until it finds its way into the heart of the film, pausing and crumbling in one somber moment. Kayla, no longer able to live under a heavy guise of denial, begins to understand what has happened to her. It is heartbreaking and painful to watch. Where Kidman and Theron masterfully depict the worn frustration of having had to put up with years of oppressive, limited and sexist attitudes from the men around them, Robbie gives us a woman eroding from humiliation, disgust, fear, vulnerability and horror. She shoulders the most important and most difficult performance in the film, and it is unyielding.

“Bombshell” is an explosive film. It is rich with detail, complicated characters and memorable performances. It is entertaining and full of allure, but manages to wade under the surface, and find the depth that is necessary for this type of subject matter. A compelling, distinctive piece.

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