Content Warning: Discussions of Rape, Sexual assault & harrassment, and mentions of the #Metoo movement are present in this review.
Authors Note: In an effort of full disclosure, I am a cis-man who has never had to experience the terrible things that the women depicted in this movie, and many women in real life as well, have had to go through. In my discussions of this movie and scenes that tackle the issue of sexual harrassment/rape culture, I am giving my opinion as an ardent supporter of Feminism & the #MeToo movement, but my view is that of a limited one due to my gender and privilege that comes with that and I wanted to make that clear for all.
When the first trailer for Bombshell dropped I remember thinking that this is exactly the kind of film that needed to be made, especially in the current #MeToo culture. A film tackling the topic of sexual harassment, with three strong female actors in the leading roles to tackle the topic with, on paper, the necessary skill to tackle the weight and brevity of the topic. Then I found out that the film was going to be written and directed by men, while not the final nail in the coffin, I couldn’t help but feel that this story was very much a female story and perhaps, in the wake of calls for more equality in Hollywood, it would have been better for everyone if the film was helmed by a woman. My fears were yet compounded by the realisation that director Jay Roach also directed films such as the Austin Powers trilogy, and Dinner for Schmucks as well, especially considering the type of humour in these previous films. But then, these worsened fears were relieved somewhat by seeing praise for Roach’s political TV movies. So I went into Bombshell hoping for the best, but unsure about what to expect. And well……
…..Unfortunately the movie falls flat. Through some baffling and bizarre creative choices, the way the movie chooses to tackle the core issues feels weird and often disingenuous. For example, in a flashback sequence we’re shown an anecdote of Rudi Bakhtiar’s sexual harassment, and in a weird roundabout way, it’s played for laughs. We see Bakhtiar’s boss make obvious passes at her and the audience gets to hear Bakhtiar’s inner thoughts before she responds, so we get moments where in her head she’s saying things like “oh he’s making a move on me, just act confused” and then she acts confused in response, or where in her head she says how creepy her boss is acting before comforting him saying how it’s not creepy at all. I understand the point of the scene is to show how Women in the workplace have to navigate these situations in a way that doesn’t anger their superiors in order to avoid losing their jobs, but the way the scene plays out feels like it’s aiming for a comedic scene/tone. One could possibly argue this then juxtaposes the scenes later on with John Lithgow, playing Fox News boss Roger Ailes, with Margot Robbie’s Kayla Pospisil in Ailes’ office where, while the full act isn’t shown, the sense of fear that Robbie portrays and the uncomfortable dynamic of the scene creates a much more serious tone filled with the required brevity and ultimately terror. But if one were to take that opinion, I’d argue that raises bigger cause for concern that the film doesn’t treat these scenes equally and thinks that sexual harassment can be used for both ideas.
Other odd creative choices that the film makes are smaller, but still frustrating to watch, such as random and inconsistent fourth-wall breaks that are solely used for exposition dumps, such as at the start of the film where Charlize Theron’s Megyn Kelly runs through the operating of somewhere like Fox News, and tacky editing gimmicks, such as showing us what a burnt-in Fox News Logo would look like after Robbie’s character mentions that her family watched Fox News so much it happened to them, just make the film feel messy and underdeveloped. The fourth-wall breaks are especially egregious and really scream that the creators wanted to include the exposition but didn’t know how to integrate it properly into the script as a whole. Especially as the technique is shelved almost immediately after introduced, it’s not a constant within the film and so it becomes painfully obvious why it was used. One of the most genuinely baffling inclusions within the film is Margot Robbie’s character’s sexuality, it never really goes anywhere? She never has a moment of revelation about how Fox News and the politics she aligns with demonises people of her sexual orientation, but it’s also unclear by the end if she has accepted her sexuality wholly. She tells her coworker, Jess, after they sleep together that she isn’t a lesbian, but by the end of the film, while clearly close with the coworker the question of her own acceptance of her homosexuality, or possible bisexuality, is seemingly answered by her telling Jess to display the picture that Robbie initially hid in fear that it would reveal Jess’s sexual orientation. It’s a bizarre inclusion that doesn’t really feel developed or well written, also one of the film’s big messages is how the sexualisation of Fox News Anchors created a rape culture in the office, but the film then chooses to expressly sexualise Robbie when we see her in bed with Jess, it’s a weirdly hypocritical moment that demonstrates the disconnect of the writing.
Technically the film is just as lacklustre as the script, with choppy editing, weak camerawork and unremarkable cinematography. One of my main technical complaints is the camera zooms, I don’t know who thought they would fit, but when scenes inexplicably zoom in on a character or through a window or whatever, it felt like it was lifted straight out of a scene from The Office. Personally I found that these zooms only took away from the scene rather than adding any extra emotion or tension into it. I’ve already mentioned some of my creative issues with the editing, but on a wider sense it just felt really choppy throughout the film, awkward cuts to new scenes, and combined with the camerawork created such awkward to watch sequences of cuts between characters.
The one saving grace of this film was the acting from the main cast, spearheaded by Theron, who arguably carries the film, Margot Robbie and Nicole Kidman both give good, but not quite great, performances. Their characters all feel distinct and different through the actresses characterisations, which reflect their different positions in the company and their performances bounce off of each other well that mesh together nicely. John Lithgow gives a good performance as Roger Ailes, evoking the sense of creepiness needed for such a role, and his scenes with the main three women were always really solid, despite how uncomfortable they were. The supporting cast was decent too, but ultimately the script doesn’t utilise them much and in moments where I thought they might explore some of the other characters, they fell quickly to the way-side. Ultimately, Bombshell was a let-down, which for me is a real shame as I believe that the message lying within Charles Randolph’s messy script is an important one. I wanted to enjoy the film, but it’s just so misguided in its approach. Despite all of the efforts of the cast through their performances, it’s not enough to make the film worth your time.