They may as well have called this Half Baked 2, but not because the idea to make a movie about a group of women who decide to take on Fox News head Roger Ailes (portrayed here by John Lithgow) is a foolish move to make, but more because it's evident a half hour in that the choices here weren't really thought through and not near enough time has passed since these events occurred to accurately depict what might be the interesting ramifications from the fallout of men such as Ailes losing their power; we need to know what a non-toxic atmosphere looks and feels like before acting like we can really assess how bad these toxic ones truly are. Still, this movie exists and it's trying its damnedest to be a political satire via Adam McKay. Given there was much to look forward to about the project outside of simply telling a relevant and intriguing story there was hope that director Jay Roach (Austin Powers, Meet the Parents, Trumbo) and screenwriter Charles Randolph (The Big Short, Love & Other Drugs) might find a unique angle on how to infiltrate the chaotic world behind the 24-hour news cycle that would feel fresh if not exactly revelatory. While Bombshell hits the ground running and is happy to welcome the audience into this world before beginning to intricately weave these three individual character plights together it, despite always feeling enticing and always feeling as if it's getting ready to really dig into the meat of what it's here to say, ultimately never comes to dig further beneath the surface delivering a cliff notes-like version of a story the average consumer was likely already aware of. Bombshell is a movie with a great beginning and idea for what it wants/needs to be by the end, but it just hadn't yet developed a sound basis for which these ideas could solidly stand on.
Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) and Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie) conversate in the Fox News bullpen.
Photo by Hilary B Gayle
Beginning by introducing us to Charlize Theron's Megyn Kelly as she breaks the fourth wall and takes us on a tour of the Fox News building while sardonically letting us in on all the "lingo" and unspoken rules at the network the film hooks you with the simple intrigue of getting a glimpse behind the curtain. Unfortunately, Bombshell kind of drops this gag once it begins to get into the thick of Kelly's internal conflict over whether or not she should openly challenge another man in a position of such power and influence after the year she's had as the film largely chronicles 2016 in which Kelly had a consistent public feud with now President, Donald Trump. Kelly has no desire to be the story herself, but Ailes knows how valuable the drama is-especially when he knows how faithful his audience has become to Trump. And so, Kelly is pushed more and more to the forefront. Though not the heart of the movie there are numerous kernels within this set-up that could effortlessly flow into how Kelly's work environment has been magnified on this global scale, but instead Randolph's script only goes so far as to highlight how this transparent conflict with a very public figure fractured Kelly's personal life and affected her family. To be clear, this is all harrowing stuff and would undoubtedly be up for consideration as the most interesting part of Kelly's life were Bombshell strictly a movie about Megyn Kelly, but as this is not the story the film sets out to tell Kelly's arc only comes to deal in her response to Gretchen Carlson's law suit that is eventually filed against Ailes after her experience with Trump when, in reality, it is this moment that should be the catalyst for Randolph's script and what it actually wants to be: a dissection of the characters and conditions at play in an environment where sexual harassment runs rampant.

Speaking to Carlson, Nicole Kidman's portrayal of the veteran anchor is arguably the most engaging and cinematic arc in the whole movie, but unfortunately it is also the least developed of the three main characters. Because of this, Kidman's portrayal is the least flashy as she has the least to do and yet the impression she inevitably leaves is somehow the strongest. "No fingerprints. That's how much I practiced the violin as a kid," Carlson says at one point when speaking to her lawyers and considering their plan of attack. "Do you know why we dress soldiers the same? So everybody knows they're replaceable. I refuse to be replaceable," she says at another point. These quotes are included to provide a clear picture of just how well-defined Carlson's character and attitude are here all while being reinforced by the fact it is her actions and initial courage that have allowed for this story to develop and now be made into a movie in the first place. The viewer wants to watch Carlson develop and execute this strategy for which she not only exposes Ailes for who he truly was, but how she covers her own ass at every turn ensuring that in a business where opinions are given as much weight as fact there is no refuting the claims she's made. As stated, Randolph's screenplay begins by expertly weaving these three different paths to the same destination in such a way that the arcs of these women not only complement one another by painting a picture of how, regardless of the levels each were operating, there was no bias for harassment, but simply different lengths at which Ailes knew he could push, but despite the set-ups and motivations being well-defined the film then seems to want to follow each of these women in so many directions that it ultimately spreads itself too thin to let any one narrative say anything that is genuinely poignant or impactful.

Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) takes Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) to task in Jay Roach's Bombshell.
Photo by Hilary B Gayle
This naturally brings us around to Margot Robbie's fictional Kayla Pospisil, a full-fledged conservative from Smalltown, USA who has come to the Big Apple to work for the one and only Fox News with her sights set on those clear anchor desks where she can really stretch her exposed legs. It would initially seem to be a smart move by Randolph to make the young, hip, up-and-comer a whole-hearted Republican as it is in Kayla that we will see the biggest overall transformation both through her friendship with Jess (SNL's Kate McKinnon), her very gay, very liberal, very Democrat co-worker who only still works at Fox because nowhere else will hire her as well as through her interactions with Ailes and the "trials" she must face before being able to reach that goal of the anchor desk, but while it's somewhat unexpected for Kayla to start in the position she does it is here that we also have the biggest false note in terms of character development as Randolph essentially uses Kayla to do whatever he needs her to do to make his narrative work and so, rather than dealing with authentic and complicated individuals like Carlson and Kelly, in Kayla we have a stand-in for the kind of perspective change that Randolph believes his more conservative audience members should also be experiencing. It doesn't even matter that I agree with Randolph's position or that I don't appreciate what he's trying to do, but in doing this and creating this conduit through which to teach his clear-cut lesson it inadvertently cheapens the intricate and thought-provoking challenges and provocations that Carlson and Kelly are dealing with.

Furthermore, the screenplay paired with Roach's slick, but shallow direction doesn't do enough to warrant any real change the further we get into the film as it more or less comes to serve as a re-cap of news stories we saw play out a couple of years ago with little insight into how they came to play in such prominence. Roach has a strong reserve of recognizable celebrities come through to play slightly less recognizable political figures (Kevin Dorff legit nails Bill O’Reilly though), but it is through Connie Britton's portrayal of Beth Ailes that Bombshell can most accurately be boiled down. While Mrs. Ailes was apparently just as ruthless and judgmental as her husband and while Britton has some fun chewing the scenery she has very little to actually do, nothing she says or does ever consisting of any great substance; all bark and no bite, if you will.

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