The main issue with Bombshell is a certain lack of perception, a reticence to truly examine a culture that was practically guaranteed to implode one way or another. To the film’s credit, it does dive into the story of the women who helped bring down powerful men at Fox News, as well as its atmosphere of harassment, doing an admirable job of not just depicting what happened, but introducing us to this world and the rules that govern it.
At first it feels like we’re in for an Adam McKay type experience, one which also uses its characters as teachers. But after a beginning where Charlize Theron shows us around the infamous Fox News workplace in full Megyn Kelly mode, it doesn’t follow the examples of Vice and The Big Short, wherein great pains are taken to explain various complexities in the most satirical fashion possible. If it had, perhaps Bombshell would’ve felt less lazy. Even a mention that all the conservative media in America is apparently housed in one building explains quite a bit of how self-imposed polarization spills out into the rest of the country.
The depiction actually gets pretty straightforward, even if there are a few insightful moments that basically revolve around the survival tactics women utilize in a workplace so intent on exploiting them. It’s not a coincidence that more well-known, established actresses Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman play Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson, also powerful women who accrued enough clout to push back; while more unknowns play those who either didn’t make it or were never allowed to speak in the first place. Even Margot Robbie, who plays a fictional Fox News employee eager to make her mark, is demeaned, with the camera not only showing her harassment by Roger Ailes (John Lithgow), but actually zooming in when she lifts her skirt up.
Even if Bombshell never loses its empathy for her or the other women at Fox, it’s still cringey and gross, and it’s difficult to imagine a film written and directed by women taking so much care to emphasize her humiliation. Indeed, nearly all satire is lost as the film continues, gradually transitioning into a simplistic story of women finally getting fed up. Well, once they lost access to the power and privileges of the very patriarchy they enabled. It’s no coincidence that this scandal coincided with the rise of Donald Trump, who had no qualms about attacking the women who worked for the network that fed him.
It’s a fact that Bombshell refuses to even acknowledge, let alone explore. Perhaps it worries that it will come off as blaming the women it’s clearly has such compassion for. Even as various Fox News employees suit up and support Ailes as ordered, there’s a whisper campaign among them as they confirm each other’s stories, then their relief as they eventually discard the dresses that allowed the network to more effectively objectify them in favor of…pants!!! Even if the movie takes care to point out that the culture at many other corporations isn’t all that different, it practically flees from stating the very real differences that must in fact exist.
The thing is, the monstrous environment that these women helped create and benefited from finally turned on them. That monster, personified by Trump, became so powerful, even the women who managed to thrive in this world found out that in spite of their work, visibility, complicity, and the sacrifices they made to carve out a path built on the less fortunate, they were still ultimately expendable. As someone who grew up in a conservative rural environment, let me say that they came to this realization only when it was unavoidable. Trust me, the damage Fox News does is real, and it’s something Bombshell should do more to hold people accountable for, even if some of the victimizers were victims themselves.