Starring Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton, Liv Hewson, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Mark Duplass, Rob Delaney, Malcolm McDowell, Allison Janney, Alice Eve, Stephen Root, Richard Kind, Robin Weigert, Amy Landecker, Mark Moses, D’Arcy Carden, Kevin Dorff, Anne Ramsay, Tricia Helfer and Jennifer Morrison.
Screenplay by Charles Randolph.
Directed by Jay Roach.
Distributed by Lionsgate. 108 minutes. Rated R.
On the surface, it’s kind of hard to believe that the smartest and funniest political film of the year was directed by the same guy who used to specialize in goofy comedies like the Austin Powers and Meet the Fockers series. However, it’s not completely unexpected, Jay Roach has long had a profitable sidelight of making smart and funny political TV movies – mostly for HBO – like Recount (about the contested 2000 Bush vs. Gore election) and Game Change (about the rise of Sarah Palin).
Add to that fact that it has a razor sharp and funny screenplay by Charles Randolph – who co-wrote the similarly brilliant hybrid comic-political film The Big Short about the market crash of 2008, which was also helmed by a director (Andy McKay) who was better known for goofy comedies – and it turns out that Bombshell is, indeed, a bombshell. Intelligent, comical, disturbing, outrageous and outraged, Bombshell is one of the year’s most pleasant theatrical surprises.
Bombshell takes on FOX News – however it smartly does not try to skewer the network for its journalistic integrity (or lack thereof). Instead, it focuses on one point in which FOX became the news – the downfall of FOX kingpin Roger Ailes for serial sexual harassment, one of the first legal victories which helped to birth to the #MeToo movement. (Popular FOX host Bill O’Reilly’s history of sexual harassment – which led to his own subsequent firing less than a year later – is touched upon periodically here, but this is Ailes’ story.)
By dipping into the toxic environment that was FOX News (and probably still is), but looking at it from the inside, Bombshell has a fascinating perspective of the hierarchy of the particular world at the towering building at 48th and Sixth in Manhattan. That building was for years known as “the house that Roger built,” before Ailes was summarily dismissed (with a massive golden parachute to soften the blow) when former FOX personality Gretchen Carlson’s sexual harassment lawsuit exposed a long history of sexual impropriety.
One of the first things you notice is how spot-on the makeup work is in Bombshell. Charlize Theron looks so much like Megyn Kelly here that you can barely see the actress herself. John Lithgow, a man who looks nothing like Ailes in real life, also seems transformed. The guy who plays Bill O’Reilly is almost a doppelganger. And the actress they got to play Judge Jeannine Pirro? Spot on. It is nearly shocking how much she looks, acts and sounds like her.
This attention to detail is important, and it is one of the reasons that the humor and ire of Bombshell is so cutting. This doesn’t feel like a bunch of movie stars imitating people – this feels like being a fly on the wall in the FOX News Building. (Believe me, I’ve been in the building several times. It’s not a place where you want to spend much time in reality – but at the distance of a movie screen it has a slimy immediacy which is strangely fascinating.)
Even though the story takes place in such a staunchly politically partisan universe, the political beliefs of the characters are generally not what is on trial here. Most, if not all, of the characters here are staunch conservatives, though on differing levels. While they may differ on their views of conservatism – there is an extended subplot about Megyn Kelly’s Twitter flameout from Donald Trump after she asked him a hard question in the first Republican Primary Debate – the characters almost all come down on the hard right.
Not all, though. Kate McKinnon does some of her finest film work to date as a closeted Democrat lesbian who works at FOX News as a producer because she couldn’t find a job anywhere else – and she can’t move on because working at FOX has made her toxic to the other networks.
However, FOX News’ fake news is not the story here. Its history of hiring statuesque, long-legged, air-headed blondes and making them “earn” their shots at fame is what Bombshell is all about.
It all sounds so grimy and depressing, but I can’t stress strongly enough how funny Bombshell is. It sometimes borders on gallows humor, perhaps, but Bombshell has some of the funniest lines and situations of the year.
Sadly, in our horrifically divided political climate, probably at least a third of the potential audience will never see Bombshell because it has the nerve to portray FOX News in a negative light. The few conservatives who do deign to see it will probably go in primed to hate it and disbelieve it just for what the film stands for; so it goes in the post-fact world. It is a shame for them, though, because they are missing out on one of the best films of the year.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2019 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: December 20, 2019.