R, for mostly sexual things. This is a deep look at sexual harassment. It goes into some pretty dark territory. This is intentionally an uncomfortable movie. The language is not just language, but it has the goal of stressing vulgarity. While this movie has this heavy content, that heavy content is necessary to stress the importance of what is happening. Every piece of adult content is not there to simply be exploitative, but just to stress the reality of the situation. R.
DIRECTOR: Jay Roach
I had my Fox News days. Okay, it wasn't really my Fox News days. I refuse to wear that mantle. When I had satellite radio, I did the 24 hour news cycle thing. When CNN went to commercial, I switched to Fox News. When Fox News went to commercial, I went back to CNN. Believe it or not, I was actually informed for a while. Now, I don't really give Fox News the time of day. I'm not a news junkie like I was before. I don't even give CNN that much space. If I do give any 24 hour news station a glance, it's going to be CNN. Fox News tends to have a pretty rough reputation. I often find that people who defend Fox News tend to be pretty die hard Fox News fans and nothing I can ever say can change their minds. I get it, man. I used to think that both channels did a solid job talking about the news. Now, I roll my eyes pretty hard when I hear the phrase "But did you see the Fox News [thing]?"
Bombshell has a lot to tear apart. Its primary audience is progressives and people who watch every movie. I keep saying this, but I kind of have to. To my conservative friends, I'm a super duper hippie commie who wants to take away guns and let all the illegals into the country. To my democrat friends, I'm never going far enough and my pro-life stance makes me a monster. There is no winning. I know that I consider myself probably a pro-life democrat, which makes me liked by no one. Jay Roach is definitely anti-Fox News, but that is a hard line to change minds. I really liked the movie and think that lots of people should probably watch and listen to what it has to say, but there's no winning when making an anti-Fox News movie. For a guy who gets conservatives, there's nothing that makes conservatives seem even slightly sane. It's not full on beating conservatives in the head, but it also doesn't really forgive them for the insanity of what is going on in this world. For progressives, the movie is self-indulgent. It reaffirms already preconceived notions about what Fox News is all about. If anything, it gives a little sense of superiority over the people in the film. It's a no win situation as a film, which is a bit of the same problem that The Big Short and Vice had going against it.
I keep returning to the no-win element. This seems like it should be a slam dunk. Fox News has a reputation for being gross. Here's one of the really gross things that they did. It should be the end of the story. But the movie really doesn't know how it feels about Fox News. I mean, I know how Jay Roach feels about Fox News. But its job is to make Megyn Kelly, Gretchen Carlson, and Kayla sympathetic. Roach and company clearly don't like conservatives, based on how problematic of a portrayal Kayla is. But also, to shame them on screen destroys the premise of the film. This is a movie about a culture that doesn't support women. That's the message. These women were sexually harassed and abused and they were the ones who were being lambasted in society. Rather than getting support for what they felt they had to do, Fox News and conservative America tried to take them down. It's a terrible comment on society. So, on the one hand, it's stupid to be conservative according to the movie, but not all conservatives are bad? It's a really muddy area. Roach handles the topic as well as he can, but there's a bit of a confusing message throughout, especially when it comes to interpretations of Roger Ailes.
But I kind of appreciate the muddiness of the whole thing. It does a little bit of a dodge and weave thing going on. Originally, I thought the movie was going to do a Rashomon thing. (Why don't I have a review on Rashomon? I've watched it in the last three years!) I thought we were going to get three very different perspectives on the same person. Megyn Kelly thought of Ailes as a father figure who also happens to be a media giant. Gretchen Carlson was going to view him as a sexist pig who thought little of women. Kayla was going to see him as a molester. But the movie eventually abandons the three characterizations of John Lithgow's Ailes into one cohesive sexual abuser. Again, if Bombshell has one thing against it, it's the muddy waters it tells its story in. I'm sure that Ailes and Kelly had an amiable relationship for a while, but the movie is fundamentally about telling truth and truth tellers. Giving this unreliable narrator element to the movie confuses a lot of things. These women, all blonde, are parallels for each other. Yet, they all have both the same relationship and different relationships with Ailes. I want to say that there's a message there. Maybe Roach is trying to make Ailes sympathetic so you hold the same skepticism about whether he did what he did or not. But the follow-through isn't there. It actually abandons this pretense fairly early on.
I also wonder about the inclusion about the secret democrat working at Fox News. This character, played by Kate McKinnon, is confusing as heck. I'm sure that something like this happened at Fox News. But she is there as a moral question mark. Is what she is doing right? Although she comes across as heroic, a quiet voice of dissent in a viper's nest, she doesn't really do anything to upset the waters. She's more concerned with getting ahead. She, if anything, is feeding the viper what it wants. Her story is that she would do anything to get a job in journalism, but she actively hates everything she's reporting on. She claims that she is a liar. I know that she's trapped where she is, but she also acknowledges that she would rather be in the sphere of journalism, even if she considers it corrupt, rather than be out of journalism. She's not trying to make a change from the inside. In fact, the image I have in my head of this character is the sight of beaming smiles at how hilarious today's headlines are. There's also the very odd idea that Margot Robbie's character doesn't think that she's gay. I'm not saying that something like that couldn't happen. I'm more in the ballpark of...it feels underwritten? It's an odd scene to include with very little follow-up. Is it saying that a lot of conservatives are actually way more progressive, but they just don't know it? Again, muddy waters.
The thing is, I'm giving all these comments about how imperfect the movie actually is when it does a lot of good. Like Roach, I muddied the waters of this analysis. When focusing on the harassment scandal of the film, it does the job of selling the ickiness of everything that was happening in Fox News. Perhaps Bill O'Reilly got off a little easier than Ailes, but he's still a monster when everything is said and done. The movie is worth a watch. It mostly hits up there with the Adam McKay movies that would be in the same genre. The performances are great and it does a really good job of being clear with its primary focus. It's just the audience for this movie is a bit puzzling. Regardless, a lot of it works.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.