Jay Roach has split his career between comedies — Austin Powers, Dinner for Schmucks, Meet the Parents — with politics — Recount, Game Change, Trumbo, All the Way — and even The Campaign and this film, two movies that try to straddle the line. (He made his directing debut with the 1990 Porkys/Animal House inspired comedy Zoo Radio.)
Working from a script by Charles Randolph (The Life of David Gale, The Interpreter, Love & Other Drugs, The Big Short), this time Roach tackles the #metoo movement from a place that the left side may not want to acknowledge: inside Fox News.
Concentrating on the stories of Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) and Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), Bombshell shows how each of their lives intersected with the head of Fox News, Roger Ailes (John Lithgow). The film blurs the lines between real life and movie magic by sometimes using real footage — particularly as Donald Trump clashes with Kelly.
While that media storm is blowing, Carlson is booted as co-anchor of the popular Fox and Friends show. She then meets with lawyers who tell her that she could file suit against Ailes, but would need other women to come forward.
Pospisil is a new hire who works for Carlson and then Bill O’Reilly (Kevin Dorff, who often appeared on Conan O’Brien’s shows) before he fires her. That night, she sleeps with Jess Carr (Kate McKinnon), who is a closeted lesbian who works for the channel. Neither of these characters — in the mass of real people whose real lives are on display — are based on anyone real, but instead serve as straw people, amalgams of the various anonymous testimonies against Ailes. It’s strange, when Pospisil easily falls in bed with Carr, despite constantly proclaiming her Christian upbringing. I realize this isn’t a documentary, but at this point, you should realize that the story is skewed.
Then again, are Kayla and Carr just the voices of the voiceless? As the composite characters made up of interviews the producers did with former staffers, as well as anonymous testimony, are they any less real for not being actual people?
Randolph told USA Today, “What happens inside of Roger’s office is based on the stories of three women we had access to. Her being ideologically fervent like a dedicated Republican, but a little sexually fluid and utterly morally sincere, that’s based more on women in my life.”
In a harrowing scene, Pospisil later is invited to Ailes’ office, where he continually makes her lift her skirt higher, despite seeming to show no real attention or care to who she is, what she’s doing or what she’s saying. Sex — and the power given by it — is just a casual transaction.
After Carlson supports the assault weapons ban on air, Ailes fires her, which allows her to launch her suit. All female staffers are asked to stand in lockstep with Fox, but Kelly refuses. Soon, twenty-two other women — and recorded conversations — push the cable news titan out of power.
So was Kelly a hero? Was her need to speak up heroic? Perhaps not so, according to As Ailes biographer Gabriel Sherman, who wrote in New York Magazine: “Carlson’s lawsuit presented an opportunity. Kelly could bust up the boys’ club at Fox, put herself on the right side of a snowballing media story, and rid herself of a boss who was no longer supportive of her—all while maximizing her leverage in a contract negotiation.”
Carlson really did record every conversation with Ailes for an entire year, as she’d been planning to sue him for some time. The damning line, “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago” is 100% accurate, as is the $20 million she received.
Malcolm McDowell plays mogul Rupert Murdoch, and his sons, James and Lachlan, are played by Australia brothers Josh and Ben Lawson — who are much more attractive than the real-life Murdoch boys. However, the gay slur that Ailes levies against James and his post 9-11 breakdown over anthrax are both accurate, according to this Slate article.
Bombshell is packed with great actors in small roles, like Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights) as Beth Ailes, Rob Delaney as a producer, Mark Duplass (The League) as Kelly’s husband, Allison Janney as Ailes’ legal consultant Susan Estrich, Katie Aselton (who was also on The League), Nazanin Boniadi as Rudi Bakhtiar (the first person who tried to sue Ailes), Liv Hewson (Santa Clarita Diet) as a staffer, Andy Buckley (David Wallace from The Office), P. J. Byrne as Neil Cavuto, Bree Condon as The Five host Kimberly Guilfoyle, Alice Eve as Fox and Friends host Ainsley Earhardt, Spencer Garrett as Sean Hannity, Ashley Greene (Ashley Cullen from the Twilight films) as Abby Huntsman, Tricia Helfer (Cylon Number Six!) as Alisyn Camerota, Marc Evan Jackson as Chris Wallace, Marc Evan Jackson as Fox anchor Chris Wallace, Mad About You’s Richard Kind as Rudy Giuliani, Mark Moses (Desperate Housewives) as Bill Shine, Jennifer Morrison (TV’s House) as Juliet Huddy, Ahna O’Reilly (The Help) as Julie Roginsky, Tony Plana as a kinda sorta recognizable Geraldo Rivera, Lisa Canning as Outnumbered host Harris Faulkner, Elisabeth Rohm (Angel, Law and Order) as Martha MacCallum, Stephen Root (an unheralded acting master, who is in everything from NewsRadio to King of the Hill, Office Space and even Monkey Shines) as Neil Mullen, Brooke Smith (Catherine in The Silence of the Lambs) as Irena Briganti., Holland Taylor (the mom from Two and a Half Men) as Ailes enabling assistant Faye, John Rothman as Martin Hyman, Alanna Ubach as Jeanine Pirro, Robin Weigert as Nancy Smith, Madeline Zima as Edie, and Anne Ramsay (Lisa Stemple from Mad About You) as Greta Van Susteren. Whew! Did I miss anybody?
In January of this year, Kelly posted a 30-minute roundtable with her, Huddy, Bakhtiar, Brunt and former Fox News producer Julie Zann about this movie. It confirmed many details in the film, such as the spin that Ailes would request. The consensus was that the movie let him off easy and that the scene where Pospisil yells at Kelly for not speaking up was a victim-blaming scene written by a man. That said, she did admit that she could have done more.