The estranged bedfellows of ‘Bombshell’: What the Fox is going on?
Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie and D’Arcy Carden

The star-studded anti-Fox News movie Bombshell is perfect for the #MeToo era, as it dramatizes the struggle of those “Foxy” ladies in front of and behind the camera against sexual harassment at the unfair and unbalanced cable “news” TV network. Classically beautiful atomic bomb Charlize Theron, who can currently be glimpsed in a sensuous perfume ad on the boob tube, won an Oscar for “disfiguring” herself as an ugly murderess in 2003’s Monster. It took me about five minutes to realize that the actress portraying the far more conventionally attractive Megyn Kelly in Bombshell was also Theron. The gifted thespian submerges herself into the role and not only looks like the beleaguered Kelly but preternaturally sounds exactly like the former Fox News host.

With what appears to be a prosthetic chin, Nicole Kidman is likewise difficult to discern as Gretchen Carlson, the former Miss America turned TV host who spearheaded the crusade against the fiendish Roger Ailes (a great John Lithgow presumably in a fat suit), Fox’s sexual harasser-in-chief. Many other real life Fox-related figures are depicted, including Alanna Ubich as “Judge” Jeanine Pirro, Kevin Dorff as dork Bill O’Reilly, Allison Janney as attorney Susan Estrich; and Richard Kind plays Rudy Giuliani, who but of course ponders perpetrating a conflict of interest. Behind that bushy mustache is Tony Plana as Geraldo Rivera, the once promising investigative reporter who sold his soul to Fox’s company store ages ago.

Spencer Garrett plays a pistol-packing Sean Hannity, who if my eyes did not deceive me, actually had a handgun in a holster strapped to his belt in a newsroom scene.

Guess who plays Fox News’ overlord Rupert Murdoch? In a clever bit of casting, it’s none other than Malcolm McDowell, who previously starred as devilish characters in A Clockwork Orange and Caligula. And the performer who depicts Trump isn’t Alec Baldwin but rather reality TV star The Donald himself, who has a Screen Actors Guild card, which I guess makes him a member of the “Hollywood elite” righties love to bash. Trump is occasionally seen and heard in actual news clips seamlessly edited into Bombshell’s action, just as vintage footage of Sen. Joe McCarthy himself was intercut with the actors in George Clooney’s 2005 Good Night, and Good Luck.

Not all of Bombshell’s dramatis personae bear the names of actual Fox figures: Some of the actors are playing fictional and/or composite characters. After all, this is a feature film, not a documentary, and the filmmakers and Lionsgate (for some odd reason 20th Century Fox did not make this movie, hahaha) probably had to take legal considerations into account, from possible libel suits to non-disclosure agreements (such as the one we’re informed in a closing title that Carlson signed, although it seems to little or no avail).

Keeping that in mind, SNL’s protean prankster Kate McKinnon plays Jess Carr, a pro-Hillary closeted lesbian working in the belly of the beast at Fox’s Manhattan HQ. As Kayla Pospisil, Margot Robbie depicts an intriguing production assistant seeking stardom on Fox’s airwaves. Although the apparently confused Kayla purports to be an Evangelical Christian, after indulging in some same-sex hanky-panky she claims to not be a lesbian, and then seems to realize that her path to celebrityhood lies through Roger’s zipper. Her scene where Kayla connives to have a private audience with Fox’s pope is chilling, as Ailes asks her to “twirl” so he can assess her physical attributes for what he explains is, after all, “a visual medium”—and then requests the young beauty to show more.

The Foxy ladies were caught in a conundrum. On the one hand, they were career women—for instance, Kelly outearns her hubbie Doug Brunt (a supportive, standup Mark Duplass)—but the females couldn’t (openly) be “feminists.” And with Fox professing the rightwing version of “family values,” they couldn’t be sexually liberated lovers in equal relationships. Most of the on-air women were sexualized, wearing low-cut dresses, for example. In a quick cameo the leggy Abbey Huntsman’s gams (Ashley Greene plays the onetime Mormon who is now co-host of ABC’s The View) are emphasized. Most Fox female talents were expected to reveal more than the news—in front of and behind the camera. Gretchen, Megyn, etc., should be “grateful” that Roger didn’t demand upskirt shots or record them in the bathroom (at least, not so far as we know).

Bombshell’s screenplay is by Charles Randolph (who wrote the great Wall Street pic The Big Short). Bombshell is directed by Jay Roach, who also helmed Trumbo (arguably the best feature about the Hollywood Blacklist), the LBJ biopic All the Way, the 2008 presidential election drama Game Change with Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin (hey, Sen. John “Maverick” McCain! Thanks for unleashing that lunatic on America!) and Recount, about the Bush v. Gore hanging chads electoral showdown in 2000. Roach is perhaps Hollywood’s foremost chronicler of contemporary politics in fiction films.

Bombshell alludes to a relationship between the sexual predator culture at Fox and the channel’s rightwing politics and programming, but I think there’s a direct connection between extreme conservative viewpoints and the exploitation of women and others, which Robert Greenwald’s 2004 nonfiction Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism exposed. The right’s raison d’être boils down to defending the indefensible: The privileges and power of the few against the many (even as they dupe the latter via Fox and similar outlets to support the former). As long as this unequal, unjust power dynamic exists, the kind of abuse depicted in Bombshell will continue, although movements such as #MeToo can fight back and mitigate this inequity in gender relations and other spheres.

Another issue is that while the Fox gang’s all here during this drama, and many real-life personalities are touched upon, most just appear in passing. I understand that in a 108-minute movie there’s only so much one can cover. Be that as it may, one of this sexism saga’s Fox foils is Kimberly Guilfoyle (Bree Condon), depicted as an eager beaver booster and Ailes ally campaigning for “Team Roger!”

Charlize Theron and John Lithgow

However, according to a 2018 Huffington Post report: “Guilfoyle was informed her time at Fox News was up following a human resources investigation into allegations of inappropriate behavior including sexual misconduct, and that her lawyers had been involved since the spring…. Six sources said Guilfoyle’s behavior included showing personal photographs of male genitalia to colleagues (and identifying whose they were), regularly discussing sexual matters at work and engaging in emotionally abusive behavior toward hair and makeup artists and support staff…. Hours after HuffPost published its report that Guilfoyle’s departure was not voluntary, her attorneys from the law firm Clare Locke LLP sent a threatening legal notice to HuffPost and this reporter, claiming the story was false and defamatory and that failure to retract it would constitute evidence of ‘actual malice.’… Guilfoyle was close to her Fox News colleague Eric Bolling, who was pushed out of the network after HuffPost reported that he sent unsolicited lewd photos to female colleagues.”

Guilfoyle disputes the above (which as I recall is not mentioned in  Bombshell’s closing title). Interestingly, she was married for several years to then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and is now ballyhooed as Don Jr.’s girlfriend! I guess she has a “bi-partisan” taste for powerful, politically connected famous men.

Among other things, Bombshell asks: What price stardom? Given that an excellent similarly themed documentary Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes was theatrically released in December 2018 and Showtime aired the seven-episode The Loudest Voice mini-series this year starring Russell Crowe as Ailes and Naomi Watts as Carlson, which likewise trod on much the same turf, I’m curious as to how much interest ticket buyers will show in yet another treatment of the Fox tragedy in only a year. Fox News likes to bray how it is the most widely watched cable news channel, and while this may be true, the fact of the matter is that at any given time only about 1% of all Americans watch its version of the news, that often freely mixes fact and fiction. Given that Fox has only 1-3 million viewers, it remains to be seen whether Bombshell’s admittedly great reenactments will attract moviegoers during the holiday season (I mean Christmas! I wouldn’t want Fox to accuse me of waging war against Christmas).

Bombshell opened in limited release on Dec. 13 and goes wide Dec. 20. The trailer can be viewed here.


CONTRIBUTOR

Ed Rampell
Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell is an L.A.-based film historian/critic and co-organizer of the 70th Anniversary Commemoration of the Hollywood Blacklist.

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