TW: Sexual Assault
Despite being a film that presents women speaking out about their abuse, their abuser, and the institution that protected it all, Bombshell (2019) manages to do nothing more than profit off of the #MeToo movement through unfaithful storytelling.
Upon first glance, you would believe that a film that stars Charlize Theron, Margot Robbie, and Nicole Kidman in yet another subpar wig could become one of the strongest films of the year. But what could have been a well-crafted film that empowers survivors of sexual assault becomes a severely stunted and muddled project, constrained at the hands of the men in charge of it. Director Jay Roach and screenwriter Charles Randolph manage to deescalate this entire situation by never fully committing to the complex story and the problematic characters at hand. Everything from its’ impartial dialogue to its’ mockumentary film style makes you feel as if you’re watching a reboot of The Office made for white, gay republicans.
Right out of the gate, former Fox News poster child Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) gives us a first-hand look at the major American conservative establishment, displaying all of the sexualization and power abuse it has to offer. After this mockumentary-style clip, however, the film immediately displays the liberties it takes with the story and leaves the viewer with nothing but its’ confused set of morals. The film depicts Kelly seeking defense from Trump’s sexist attacks, yet decides to leave out the numerous race-related fights she has instigated on-air. Another scene also paints Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) as a friendly Fox anchorwoman who fights for all of the girls out there, but not as a woman who fights for her countless anti-LGBTQ+ and racist stances. Including the problematic moral compasses of the film’s characters would not have doomed the film’s success by any means, since just about anybody in America can pull up their demeaning rants in a matter of seconds. But by denying the existence of their repulsive moral codes, likely as a cheap way to garner more sympathy for these characters, the crew reinforces the notion that there are no repercussions for this kind of behavior if you are in a position of power. It’s an extremely hypocritical move from the cast and crew to hide the ugly truth about their film’s characters in a movie centered around speaking the truth and seeking justice.
As the film stumbles on, it introduces fictional character Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), an evangelical millennial who’s willing to bust her ass to get to the top of the lineup. After failing to do so, she decides to get drunk and go home with her coworker, Jess Carr (Kate McKinnon). It’s difficult to even say that they slept together, since Pospisil denies any form of queerness and the scene is centered around the irony of Carr being a closeted liberal at Fox News, rather than taking the opportunity to address LGBTQ+ issues within politics. The scene contributes nothing to the plot, queerbaits the gays, and arouses the straights; it’s nothing but a slap in the face to everyone involved. However, this slap is nothing compared to the real punch the film serves when Kelly begins asking around for harassment survivors amidst the Roger hysteria. One scene in particular features a quiet, yet blunt, conversation between Pospisil and Kelly that leaves no doubt in the viewer’s mind that this film’s fate was kept in the hands of men: “Did you think what your silence would mean for us? The rest of us?” a tearful Pospisil whispers to Kelly in which she responds “Roger is not my fault”. It’s times like these when you realize this film doesn’t understand the power dynamics and the relationships between Roger and the women at Fox, and won’t ever understand the horrors that these survivors went through. The men in charge of this scene (and the whole film) don’t have a grasp that displaying victim blaming isn’t something trivial: it’s a real fear of survivors of abuse and shouldn’t be treated as just a minor plot point for entertainment purposes.
While severely mislead and scatterbrained, there are still some silver linings in the confusion that is Bombshell. The cast provides effective performances across the board, to the point where despite knowing how it ends, you never actually feel like these women will feel justice for the wrongs forced upon them. While possibly true that some of these women might never feel justice (depending on the survivor and their experience), this nihilism allows the core message of Bombshell to still reign true. The film promotes the importance of creating spaces in society for survivors to safely come out against their abuse whenever they’re ready. This space is almost made by showing to survivors that justice will prevail no matter how hard the truth is buried. However, the way that the film goes about this practically does nothing for those same survivors and contributes nothing to the #MeToo movement. By dodging questionable moral codes, to queerbaiting its’ audience, and even blaming the victims in a movie trying to combat victim blaming, Jay Roach’s Bombshell undoubtedly has very little going for it. This film misses the opportunity to give survivors the closure and justice they need to move forward, and instead it feeds into history and lets Ailes off easy yet again. Let’s hope The Loudest Voice (2019) gets it right.