Perhaps I am guilty of the same failure of imagination and compassion that Megyn Kelly and other women of her ilk display towards victims of sexual harassment until it happened to them, but I found Bombshell, directed by Jay Roach and backed by the female-led Annapurna Pictures, a dumbed-down and vanilla take on the impact of systemic sexual harassment. In the interest of being fair and balanced, every actor in the film was perfectly cast and did an excellent job. It’s satisfying to watch a film where you know the bad guy is going to get just desserts. Breaking the fourth wall drew me into the film.
And then the film lost me when the three leads in the film, who portrayed victims of sexual harassment at various points in their careers at Fox News, Charlize Theron (Megyn Kelly), Nicole Kidman (Gretchen Carlson) and Margot Robbie (a fictionalized Kayla Popisil), played their roles with a narrow emotional range that this critic found disingenuous. Agreed, one does not want to cry at work, particularly in a toxic environment. Yet these characters were not at work all the time in the film. Sadly, the film did not deepen most of the characters outside of their professional, Fox News personas. There’s a bar scene between Kayla and Jess Carr (well played by a tragically under-utilized Kate McKinnon) that initiated a friendship that was never pursued onscreen beyond the titillating. There are scenes with Megyn and her husband and children that should be touching but sadly have the emotional depth of an infomercial. I kept wondering, when am I supposed to care about what these characters went through? These women went through hell and the film allowed no empathy with them.
Gretchen Carlson brought the suit against Roger Ailes himself, after documenting his abuse for years. Kidman brings restraint and patience to the role that is sure to get award nods this year. There was minimal emotional response to her standing up for herself and the backlash, even during scenes when Carlson was at home, which could lead some viewers to the conclusion that Carlson was vengeful and calculating in her suit and not wanting to stop someone who is systematically abusing people.
What the film does have is obvious sexual harassment soundbites – from the garden-variety, “You sure look great in that dress!” as Megyn walks away from a male colleague who blatantly leers at her, to an abhorrent scenario which leaves the victim wondering if what happened was sexual harassment since she willingly took a meeting with a male higher-up. What the film lacks is obvious emotional responses beyond, “Oh, that’s just how it is around here.” Believe me, the emotional and physical impact of sexual harassment does not stop there.
The film, objectively, is well done. Bombshell is going to win some awards. And perhaps its vanilla portrayal of sexual harassment will further, or initiate, a conversation among people that need to have it most.