Bombshell (2019) Movie Review: A Well-Acted Yet Slightly Empty Procedural Drama

Bombshell tries being fair but isn't quite balanced.
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Given how Bombshell has a seriocomic tone, depicts conservative media figures, and is written by Oscar-winner Charles Randolph who collaborated with Adam McKay, comparisons to Vice or even McKay’s previous work feel inevitable. However, Bombshell mainly works best when it isn’t trying to be a McKay clone. Its nonchalant, procedural direction successfully negates the need to have characters breaking the fourth wall.

Additionally, the comical elements make Bombshell even more uncomfortable than it already is since it delves into sexual misconduct taking place within a very right-wing television network complicit in getting a sexual predator elected as President. One particular scene that highlights the horrific misconduct that these women went through is when Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), a fictional composite of various female Fox News employees, has a meeting with Roger Ailes (John Lithgow).

It’s a pivotal scene that shows how harassment takes many forms. There’s no physical act of harassment, but Ailes forcing Kayla to degrade herself in order to get a promotion proves to be just as traumatizing for her. That moment perfectly captures the dreary feel that Bombshell often aims for and shows that Kayla is the heart and soul of the picture. Also, Robbie uses masterful facial cues to map out Kayla’s arc, initially expressing wide eyes to showcase her eager idealism before going into utter mental paralysis after her encounter with Ailes.

As for Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman as Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson, respectively, they’re amazing in the way one can always expect them to be. Theron is quite transformative as Kelly, quietly demonstrating her conflict over speaking up about her own misconduct experience and, despite Kelly being a problematic figure, Theron avoids any attempt at heroizing her. Meanwhile, Kidman is a source of steely reserve as Gretchen Carlson. As a result of her fine work, the film falters once it nearly abandons Kidman after she moves the narrative forward.

The picture also features a plethora of famous names in both supporting roles and cameos. John Lithgow is effective as the chauvinistic Roger Ailes while Alanna Ubach nails her cameo as Ailes’ enabler Jeanine Pirro. Also, Kate McKinnon gets to simultaneously tap into rare dramatic territory and offer sly comic relief as Jess Carr, Kayla’s kindly co-worker. She’s bound to be the film’s unsung hero.

All the main actors bring their A-game while being aided by the wizardry from Oscar-winning makeup artist Kazuhiro Tsuji to transform into the real-life figures they’re portraying. Truthfully, besides the actors, Tsuji is the real star of the show. Everything else succumbs to the unfocused screenplay that tries juggling the three-person narrative along with a political compromise. It doesn’t shy away from the politics of Kelly, Carlson, and Kayla, but it’s unsure whether it wants to go deeper into their beliefs in order to examine their part in enacting the close-minded rhetoric in the network they worked for.

Fair and Balanced was the original title for Bombshell. It certainly tries to be fair, but it isn’t exactly balanced. The fact that the film is simply about women working in Fox News will make this an understandable but immediate turnoff. However, it attempts to show that harassment is harassment no matter what person it happens to or what exact behavior is being enacted. As it tries to emphasize the importance of speaking up, though, its humanistic message becomes overshadowed by its occasional need to become an Adam McKay hybrid.

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