The Fascinatingly Conflicted ‘Bombshell’ Documents the Downfall of Roger Ailes

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CREDIT: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle SMPSP

Starring: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Rob Delaney, Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton, Mark Duplass, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Liv Hewson, Allison Janney, Malcolm McDowell

Director: Jay Roach

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Rating: R for Powerful Men Behaving Badly

Release Date: December 13, 2019 (Limited)/Expands December 20, 2019

Most of the audience who will see Bombshell are probably not regular Fox News viewers. Although I don’t want to assume anything too definitively. Maybe there are actually some people who have the mental capacity to watch both a notoriously conservative news network and a movie that is fundamentally critical about it. Bombshell makes a similar argument against rushing to judgment when being critical seems like the most obvious correct approach to take, especially in one key scene when a woman confronts Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) in a grocery store, and Carlson shoots back about the virtue of treating with respect the people you disagree with. That could easily be a shallow bromide, but when you consider what Carlson is going through, it has unexpected resonance.

What Carlson is going through is a fight against the systematic misogyny at Fox News, a workplace whose initiation for its female employees apparently includes a signature piece of harassment from founder Roger Ailes (a gluttonously made-up John Lithgow). After Carlson is let go from the network in 2016, she files a lawsuit alleging harassment against Ailes, prompting the other women at Fox News to consider if they will support her. Many of them are reflexively Team Roger, but a few of them actually have a crisis of conscience, especially Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) and a fictional character named Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie).

The filmmaking trick here is generating empathy, which is generally pretty easy to do for people who have clearly been harassed and abused. But matters are complicated by the fact that these women so resolutely insist that they’re not feminists as they come to terms with speaking out against the misogyny they’ve endured. I certainly believe it is possible to extend humanity to someone you deeply disagree with, but the struggle is even deeper than that. Even if these women leave and renounce their employer, they can’t ever escape the mark of having once worked at Fox News, so far removed is the network from the rest of the media landscape. It’s a sort of original sin that traps them in an infinite labyrinth. For a film that could have so easily been straightforward in many ways, I appreciate the complexity at its heart.

Bombshell is Recommended If You Like: Feeling disgusted and empathetic at the same time

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Lawsuits

This Is a Movie Review: Does Motherhood Gradually Get Better for Everyone? I Don’t Know, But Let’s Watch ‘Tully’ in the Meantime

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CREDIT: Focus Features

This review was originally posted on News Cult in May 2018.

Starring: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Ron Livingston, Mark Duplass

Director: Jason Reitman

Running Time: 96 Minutes

Rating: R for PG-13-level Profanity, a Wish-Fulfilling Sex Scene, and Some Nudity (Mostly Breastfeeding-Related)

Release Date: May 4, 2018

“How could anyone possibly want to be a mother?” I find myself thinking multiple times while watching Tully. Sure, kids can be bundle of joys for folks who are parentally inclined, but the purgatory of pregnancy and postpartum malaise that Charlize Theron steeps herself in conveys unequivocally the crushing sacrifices required to assemble a happy family. Now, not every mother or mother-to-be is as susceptible to depression as Theron’s Marlo is, but creating another life inside your body pretty much guarantees a transformation of your sense of personhood. So what a blessing it would be to have someone devoted to helping with that transition, and I think we can all agree that a smiling, eager Mackenzie Davis on our doorstep fits the requirements perfectly.

Davis’ titular nanny, hired to take care of Marlo’s new baby overnight so that Mom can get some much-needed sleep, shares a lot of DNA with Manic Pixie Dream Girls, that oft-bemoaned breed of rom-com stock character designed for the express purpose of making the lead character discover the joy of loving life. But the Manic Pixie Night Nanny, or at least this particular one, avoids being similarly frustrating, because taking care of all of Marlo’s needs is kind of in her job description. She comes across as a real, layered person because some people really are that expertly enthusiastic about childcare, and she is granted a life and concerns of her own outside her employment. But as Tully proves to be the most perfect nanny ever and starts to become a friend and confidante, the questions arise: just how is it possible that she is this perfect? How long can, and should, this arrangement last?

In her third collaboration with director Jason Reitman, screenwriter Diablo Cody takes plenty of piercing (but loving?) digs at the sort of suburban bougie lifestyle that accompanies the concept of a night nanny. According to Marlo’s brother Craig (Mark Duplass, so often playing the embodiment of bougie entitlement), this may be the sort of indulgence only rich assholes get to have, but at least these particular rich assholes are of the unwittingly hilarious kind. The New York crowd at my screening cracked up heartily at a dog named “Prosecco” and the reveal that an elementary school kid’s talent show talent is “Pilates.” (Distressingly, though, I was the only one laughing at a sneaky reference to a certain ’90s cartoon.)

I feel that I must now get into a spoiler alert, which I want to be careful about, because the fact that there is a spoiler alert is already a bit of a spoiler, as this is not the type of movie you would expect to have secrets that need protecting. But because of the nature of what is spoilable, it feels irresponsible not to mention that it could be traumatic to mothers who have experienced pregnancy-related mental health issues. Tully ultimately reveals itself to be a different movie than it initially appears to be – not worse, but a lot heavier. It is something I cannot get out of my head, and I think that is a good thing, as it offers an approach to certain facts of life that is well worth digesting.

Tully is Recommended If You Like: Bougie Suburban Satire (like that of Beatriz at Dinner), Young Adult, The Babadook

Grade: 4 out of 5 Milk Spills