The premise of Bombshell should be a combustible mix. You have the setting of Fox News—a place where the only injustices that can ever happen are against rich, white men—running up against the #MeToo movement. Unfortunately, director Jay Roach and screenwriter Charles Randolph don’t seem to have anything to say about Fox News as an organization or workplace sexual harassment. They’re content to let the story unfold, but there’s no comment or critique, so instead this volatile conflict is rendered as nothing more than sensationalism. It’s a movie that solemnly intones against sexual harassment, but then marches a parade of Fox News anchor impersonations across the screen for laughs. Randolph looks like he wants to capture the mix of gravitas and dark comedy he brought to his previous screenplay, The Big Short, but Roach has no idea how to convey it, so Bombshell feels like a Very Important Movie with no idea what it wants to be about.
The story follows three women at Fox News. You have one of the network’s biggest stars in Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) who is weathering attacks from viewers after becoming the target of Donald Trump’s ire following a Republican Presidential Debate; there’s falling star Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), who is prepping a lawsuit against Fox News head Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) after he demoted her to a weaker timeslot; and then there’s ambitious young producer Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), who believes she has what it takes to become on-air talent at the network. The stories of these women collide when it comes out that Ailes had sexually harassed his female employees throughout his tenure.
The case that Bombshell seems to be making is that the ethos of Fox News was inevitably linked to #MeToo and that a network that sexualized is female anchors and played into retrograde notions of masculinity would of course have sexual predators in powerful positions. But Bombshell really struggles in trying to tie everything together and forcefully make that case. Instead, it’s a scattershot approach that wants the appearance of saying something without really saying anything at all.
The problem with the #MeToo aspect is that it’s not just a Fox News issue. Perhaps it was inevitable at a place like Fox News, but we’ve seen that sexual harassment isn’t contained to any single party or business. Mark Halperin, a regular contributor to MSNBC, was accused of sexual harassment. Harvey Weinstein donated a lot of money to the Democratic Party and he’s a goddamn monster. Bombshell knows that sexual harassment is disgusting and wrong (there’s a deeply uncomfortable scene between Pospisil and Ailes), but it doesn’t know how to move the conversation forward or broaden the scope of the issue to provide any insight.
Bombshell doesn’t fare much better on the Fox News side of things. Maybe it’s because Fox News is so much bigger than this chain of events, but Bombshell seems reluctant to critique Fox News beyond producer Jess Carr (Kate McKinnon) saying, “You have to adopt the mentality of an Irish street cop. The world is a bad place. People are lazy morons. Minorities are criminals. Sex is sick but interesting. Ask yourself, ‘What would scare my grandmother or piss off my grandfather?’ and that’s a Fox story.” But Bombshell doesn’t really want to carry that observation further, which is bizarre when you consider that Fox News has operated like the propaganda arm of the Republican Party for the past few decades. The popularity of Fox News has had a profound impact on truth and politics in America, and Bombshell just kind of shrugs it off.
Instead, Bombshell puts most of its energy by relishing its cast playing Fox News personalities like some overlong, slightly dramatic Saturday Night Live sketch. Yes, Charlize Theron does a terrific Megyn Kelly impression, but to what end? I don’t know Kelly any better after seeing Bombshell, and the film verges on comical when she attempts to do journalism by talking to current and former Fox News employees. When you see Kelly on top of the Fox News building talking to sources on the phone, you can only think, “Wow. If only she put this much effort into googling, ‘Why is blackface bad?’ she might still have a job.” I’ll admit that casting Richard Kind is a bit role as Rudy Guiliani tickled me to no end, but ultimately, the casting across the board doesn’t help us understand these figures or Fox News as an organization.
I have no idea who Bombshell is for beyond people who want to seem like they’re tuned into current events without really paying attention. Liberals already know the story; conservatives have already tuned it out; and so all that’s left is a bunch of low-information media consumers who apparently slept through 2015-2016 but would like to know why Megyn Kelly isn’t on Fox News anymore. The conclusion of Bombshell—that all you need to do to get away from the toxic environments of Fox News and sexual harassment—is just walk out, is facile and childish, but unsurprising when you consider that this is a story about what women suffer in the workplace told by two dudes. That’s not to say that men can’t tell a feminist story, but they couldn’t as far as Bombshell is concerned.