MPAA Rating: R
USCCB Rating: L
Reel Rating: 2 out of 5 reels
Bombshell employs a style that is a hybrid of both Jay Roach’s political films (Recount, Game Change) and Adam McKay’s fourth wall manic narrative (The Big Short, Vice) to create an effect that is certainly entertaining but rarely illuminating. It chronicles a horrific true story of work-related sexual abuse, but is more interested in how it happens than why. As a result, there is a missed opportunity here to make a powerful statement for human dignity. But taking down a hated news organization is just too great a temptation.
The focus begins on Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) and the general atmosphere at Fox News. The audience learns about the ins and outs of the network through the eyes of intern Kayla (Margo Robbie), who is shown the ropes by veteran production assistant Jess (Kate McKinnon). Jess tells young Kayla to “adopt the mentality of an Irish street cop: the world is a bad place, people are lazy morons, minorities are criminals, and sex is sick but interesting.” Even for hyperbole, this is stretching it. Meanwhile, Kelly becomes the target of media attention after entering a public, if unwanted, spat with presidential candidate Donald Trump, who famously accused her of attacking him unfairly because she was menstruating. This puts Fox—particularly its blond, attractive anchors—in the spotlight, much to glee of CEO Roger Ailes (John Lithgow). Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), one of these anchors, becomes fed up with the constant objectification and sexual harassment and sues Ailes. Soon, Kayla and Megyn weigh the price of revealing their own testimony against him.
If the story is chaotic and unrelenting, that’s part of the point. Director Jay Roach does an excellent job encapsulating a workplace that feels like a train speeding off a cliff. Fox News is portrayed as an institution so wrapped up in money, power, and fame that only the strongest alpha men and women willing to do anything are able to succeed. While the network might have a conservative slant, this is portrayed as just the wrapping paper: these narcissistic individuals believe in themselves, not the cause. In fact, it is easy to imagine the exact same kind of abuse occurring at a liberal institution like NBC. The workplace pressure not only fosters the desire to sexually control others, but also the need to silence it, creating an unholy cycle that gets worse and worse until someone blows the whistle.
It’s clear that the sexual harassment imposed by Ailes on his female staff is gravely immoral. Yet it is not quite as clear why it is wrong. In the film’s key scene, the audience witnesses Ailes demanding Kayla strip to demonstrate “loyalty”. It’s a heartbreaking encounter that is told slowly and with great restraint. Kayla is rightfully devastated. However, only a few scenes prior, she engages in lesbian sex with Jess, a co-worker, an act which is presented as liberating, fun, and completely free of attachment.
This schizophrenic attitude reveals the difficulty in engaging the #metoo movement. For many decades now, mainstream society has been demanding more sexual liberties but, when it comes to oddly specific areas like workplace romance or relationships involving minors, it suddenly becomes prudish. For example, there are dozens of programs, supported by liberal politicians, that assist those trapped in the horror of human trafficking. Simultaneously, young people are permitted and even encouraged to view pornography that directly creates the demand for this underground economy.
The only thing that matters is consent, which circles back to control. It’s true that the sexual abuse experienced by men and women in the workplace is evil, but this problem cannot be solved without addressing the underlying cause. The only foundation for sexual wholeness and morality, which is ordered toward life, both physical and spiritual, is authentic and sacrificial love between a man and a woman, and this is the one thing that is apparently outside the pale of mainstream thought and conversation.
Bombshell is a fantastic production in terms of its writing, editing, and acting. It deserves praise for bringing to light the experiences of these abused women. But it is frustrating to see it stop short of really showing or stating why these women deserve respect and dignity: they were created by God, they are loved by God, and they are (like all of us) called to know and love God. That is the true bombshell.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!