In Jay Roach’s Bombshell, Charlize Theron walks around looking nearly unrecognisable as Megyn Kelly. The last time someone was as brazen in their attempt to look/sound like their real-life counterpart, Christian Bale had put on nearly 30 kilos and Joseph Gordon-Levitt was talking about listening to hours of Snowden recordings to internalise *that* voice. It’s a thin line between turning it into a parody, and being earnest enough to capture the real-life person’s essence. Behind that nose and that blonde wig, Charlize Theron disappears… and only Megyn Kelly remains.
Based on the sexual harassment allegations of three Fox News anchors — Megyn Kelly (Theron), Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) and the fictional Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), Bombshell examines the toxic work culture espoused by its founder, Roger Ailes. Widely regarded one of the chief architects of the Trump era, Ailes’ sexual harassment allegations tipped the dominos for general workplace conduct and quite possibly laid the foundation for the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo movement.
Bombshell tries to decode these three women, their political ideologies, their ambition and ultimately their trauma. Written by Charles Randolph (co-writer on The Big Short), the film often breaks the fourth wall as the women speak to the camera. But it doesn’t quite have the sting of the self-serving bankers in The Big Short.
As the doddering 70-something Ailes, John Lithgow is splendid in his role as the right-leaning TV honcho. He doesn’t fill a room with his presence, unlike Russell Crowe’s portrayal of the same man in Showtime’s The Loudest Voice. Lithgow brings a dullness to the character, who inspires loyalty and respect, but only out of fear. The double chin hangs from his face, every other minute we hear him grunt, and see him slobbering as he screams instructions to his assistants. He’s so adept at asking for sexual favours, that someone describes Ailes as: ‘if he had his clothes on, then it’s not misconduct’. He asks women to twirl in his office (since it’s a ‘visual medium’), and storms into PCRs telling producers to cut to a long-shot so that the female anchor’s legs are visible.
Both Gretchen (Kidman) and Kayla (Robbie) are clinical in the way they endure the muted horrors of Ailes’ dictatorship. Enduring the daily humiliation at the workplace, their rage is relatively transparent and righteous compared to Megyn Kelly’s. Kelly (Theron) not only has to endure Ailes’ advances, she soon discovers how it was her mentor who had been pitting her against Donald Trump, to make ‘good television’.
At one point, Kidman’s character bemoans how there is good reason why everyone on the Fox corridor is asked to dress and wear their hair the same way, a reminder for how dispensable everyone is if they choose not to be a ‘team player’. Saturday Night Live veteran Kate McKinnon is delicious in the role of a long-time Fox News employee, Jess, who hilariously tells Kayla at one point – “identify a villain and you have a Fox News story.”
Bombshell is a timely story that broaches the murky topic of sexual harassment at the workplace, and even though it’s well-acted for the most part, its fangs aren’t quite sharp for a satire. It has plenty of the righteous rage stemming from those who have had enough of the unfair power structure at the workplace. If only the film had Theron’s boldness to go where no film has tread before. She obliterates any Charlize Theron memory you may have, while we see her on the big screen as Megyn Kelly. Seriously, who does Charlize Theron think she is?