Bombshell stars Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie in tale of women challenging Fox News culture of sexual harassment

The images of Harvey Weinstein hobbling past throngs of protesters and members of the press on his way into a Manhattan court this week, his rape trial newly underway, looms large over the release of Bombshell, Jay Roach's glossy, semi-fictionalized account of the events that led to the ousting of Fox News mastermind Roger Ailes.

In July 2016 — a year before the allegations against Weinstein surfaced; a year before the catchcry of #MeToo rippled across the web — dozens of women at the purportedly "fair and balanced" cable network came forward accusing Ailes of sexual harassment, galvanized by a lawsuit brought by Gretchen Carlson, former host of the morning show Fox & Friends.

Though Ailes denied the allegations, he resigned, leaving rumors of deeply toxic workplace culture in the wake of his 20-year reign.

You might think of it as a kind of dress rehearsal for the scandal that would soon hit the film industry, played out amongst some of the biggest — and most divisive — personalities on the small screen.

Bombshell sets itself apart from the 2019 Showtime miniseries The Loudest Voice, which stars Russell Crowe as Ailes and covered much of the same ground, with its strong focus on the female perspective: rather than set out to chart the rise and fall of a charismatic tyrant, Roach is interested in depicting how the women at Fox coped in the constant presence of harassment.

Although he made his name as a director of moderately raunchy comedies like the Austin Powers films, in recent years Roach has pivoted to more 'political' fare (see also: Adam McKay). His last film, 2015's Trumbo, was a biopic of screenwriter James Dalton Trumbo, who was blacklisted during the McCarthy era.

Bombshell's conceit is admirable, to be sure, though unfortunately the finished product too often feels like a big-budget corporate training video, designed to demonstrate why the objectification of women — even Republican women! — is bad. (I very much doubt that anyone interested in seeing the film doesn't already have a firm grasp on this concept.)

Headlining this preachy, all-star production is Charlize Theron as steely news anchor Megyn Kelly, Nicole Kidman as Carlson, the whistleblower, and Margot Robbie as aspirational newbie Kayla Pospisil, in a performance that has been nominated for an Oscar as well as (somewhat controversial) BAFTA.

An invention of screenwriter Charles Randolph, Kayla's "anchor Barbie" looks and perky naivete means that she's virtually guaranteed a fast-tracked career at Fox — so long as she's willing to prove her "loyalty" to the company.

"To get ahead, you gotta give a little head." Or so says Roger Ailes, played here by a jowly John Lithgow (The Crown; Pet Sematary), seemingly more comfortable than Crowe in the lecherous CEO's aging, corpulent frame. (Certainly, he is more compelling to watch.)

While Ailes's boss and old mate Rupert Murdoch (Malcolm McDowell) turns a blind eye, his personal assistant (Holland Taylor, uncredited but in fine form — perhaps you know her as Legally Blonde's Professor Stromwell) scouts potential victims. She eyes each woman who passes over the threshold into his office slyly and locks the door behind them — the accompanying 'bzzt' sound more ominous each time.

The film bounces between the largely distinct plotlines of its three leads: Megyn is caught up in a feud with Donald Trump after calling out his treatment of women during the Republican Party primaries; Gretchen, no longer in Ailes's favor, is getting fed up with being his punching bag, and plots her counter-attack; self-described "evangelical millennial" Kayla is learning to negotiate the labyrinthine Fox News office with the (very unlikely) assistance of closeted lesbian leftie Jess, played with characteristic verve by Kate McKinnon.

The paths of all three protagonists cross just once when they share a silent elevator ride, thick with dramatic tension and sidelong glances.

Stylistically, Bombshell will seem awfully familiar to those who saw Adam McKay's GFC dramedy The Big Short — and that's because both were written by Randolph, who's here dipping back into the same bag of tricks he used previously in order to make an interlocking set of exposition-heavy, real-life narratives as poppy and digestible as possible.

Namely, Megyn and Gretchen are wont to cheekily address the camera and explain whatever's going on, sometimes with the assistance of infographics or models, in case the viewer isn't keeping up. You might find this approach cute and even clever (they're news anchors, after all). Alternatively, you might find it kind of condescending

You might also wonder why, in 2020, we would have a couple of dudes write and direct a film about sexual harassment (however woke Roach and Randolph's gender politics may be). Did no one think to call, say, Elizabeth Banks?

All this is not to undercut the work put in by Bombshell's stars, who are undoubtedly the main, ahem, attraction — but there's something icky about the fact that behind the scenes, men are still calling the shots.

Aimed at rallying people around the notion of women's rights as a bipartisan issue, the film winds up as a white feminist parable; a brightly colored #MeToo primer that's bolstered by a strong cast, its members primped and preened and prosthetically enhanced — more than capable of holding down this super-sophisticated PowerPoint presentation.

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