With Kelly as narrator, Bombshell breaks the fourth wall with asides to the audience (of a colleague who lasciviously compliments her dress as she walks through the Fox newsroom, Kelly says he’s not a creep, he’s just “ambitious”). That, along with the brusque, overly-explanatory style—a signature of writer Charles Randolph—falls flat. The device works in Randolph’s explanation of the 2008 financial crisis, The Big Short, because of the complexity of the financial system, but here, the asides are unnecessary and distracting.
Margot Robbie’s terrific Kayla, an “evangelical millennial” and aspiring anchor, is the most heartrending part of the film. While her character isn’t strictly true, she’s an amalgam of all the women Ailes subjected to his lechery, the ones who, unlike Carlson or Kelly, didn’t have enough star power or leverage to share publicly what had happened to them. One of the most crushing scenes in Bombshell is when Kayla breaks down telling her co-worker—the fantastic Kate McKinnon, who plays a (fictional) closeted lesbian producer—she “gave in” to Ailes.
More than anything, that’s what Bombshell gets right: the agonizing position workplace harassment puts women in. Carlson, in the movie and in reality, eventually settles the suit for $20 million, with the caveat that she’s forbidden from discussing what happened. (The real-life Carlson is now campaigning to end the use of nondisclosure agreements and forced arbitration that prevent women from speaking up.)
Near the end of the movie, Kayla ticks off the list of never-ending questions for women who’ve been harassed. What did I do to bring this on? Will I always be seen as a victim? If I come forward, will this define me? As in real life, the film leaves them unanswered.
Rebecca Nelson is a magazine writer based in Brooklyn. Her work regularly appears in The Washington Post, ELLE, GQ and many other publications.