Bombshell is a film directed by Jay Roach and written by Charles Randolph, starring Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie. The story deals with a scandal at Fox News, where News head Roger Ailes was found wanting when a group of women decided to take him on for misconduct. A powerful man, at the head of one of the most successful opinion news channels, he served as a gatekeeper for up-and-coming presenters, demanding a special kind of loyalty.
Following the #MeToo movement in Hollywood, there’s a much bigger story of play with the toxic environment at Fox News a byproduct of a much broader social issue around objectification and prejudice. The idea of getting ahead in exchange for sexual favours has unfortunately been an unwritten cornerstone of many industries. Whether from a lack of regulation or a fear of being discredited, these double standards have continued to exist. Thanks to whistleblowers like Gretchen Carlson, played by Nicole Kidman who was smart enough to seek legal counsel before taking action, kingpins like Ailes have been curtailed and the culture of toxic masculinity subverted.
While side effects of a much greater monster, Bombshell is fiercely relevant and compelled by many strong performances. While the lead trio all use their performances as a showcase of their abilities, garnering a number of award nominations in the process, they’re supported by a solid ensemble with John Lithgow as Roger Ailes. The film’s overarching political message and the tenacity of performances hold the fort, but Bombshell unfortunately feels like something of a missed opportunity. It’s a fantastic showcase for some of the best actresses in Hollywood, each capable of serving as a leading lady in their own respective films. However, there seems to be a diminished effect when it comes to powering home what should have been a much more explosive and thought-provoking piece on gender discrimination and sexual harassment.
The film’s working title was Fair and Balanced, probably underwriting the kind of culture they were trying to create on set. A similar scandal would have probably drenched the film in infamy. While this is good advice and trying to present an unclouded view of the situation, especially when it’s based on a true story, it can make for bland entertainment. Playing it safe, screenwriters probably hold back from going for the throat. While this perspective could work for a fly-on-the-wall documentary, later to be given an angle in the editing room, it’s not quite as simple for a narrative-driven film when it comes to entertainment value.
The feeling is that while these characters are being subjected to double standards, forced to doll up or lose ground, the same superficial aspect is transposed onto the screenplay. While the actors add nuance to their characters, it just feels as though there’s not all that much for them to work with, with very few moments to address the powerful message. As a product, you’ve also got to be mindful of your audience. Bombshell probably would have attracted many of the people who actually watch Fox News, the voting populace who support Trump and the kind of people who would simply want to watch a film with such beautiful woman.
If the angle had been too liberal, it would have been dismissed and alienated the same district of people they were trying to appeal to, making the balancing act somewhat trickier. Trying to remain mainstream without taking a fixed and biased viewpoint leads to some serious juggling, which can affect the overall efficacy of the screenplay when it comes to delivering a payload as is the case with Bombshell. It seeems like an attempt to inject a docudrama edge and satirical tone, not far removed from what was the case with Adam McKay directing Vice. Unfortunately, whether it was the director who brought us fembots, the scattershot lead dynamic or simply a case of being overambitious, Bombshell struggles to deliver on all fronts taking away from its main mission.
It’s important to write with your audience in mind, keeping your entertainment product as accessible as possible in order to leverage box office takings. However, the balance when it comes to artistic merit and the actual intentions of the filmmakers also need to be weighed up. Luckily for Bombshell, the star quality and performance nominations put it on the map, although as one of the first films grappling with the #MeToo movement, it’s a so-so effort that isn’t strong enough to start a revolution or change behaviour. It’s more a signal of intent, which while welcome comes at the price of a diminished result.