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Bombshells Cannoli Send a noteboard - 03/01/2020 12:38:54 AM

Bombshells is part Charlize Theron's personal anti-Fox News screed, and part dramatization of the sexual harassment environment of Fox News under Roger Ailes. And much more the latter than the former. Also, the latter is a fairly honest and evenhanded portrayal of the complexities of both the issues of workplace dynamics and the realities of the nature of the business in particular. The former quality (Charlize Theron hates Fox ) doesn't disrupt the actual story, despite its intellectual dishonesty and shortcomings.

So after Theron in character as Megyn Kelly, introduces the viewers to the structure of the Fox News office and its relationship to the rest of owner Rupert Murdoch (Malcolm McDowell)'s media empire, the narrative begins with Kelly preparing for the Republican primary debates, deciding to go after Donald Trump with her now infamous accusations about his insults toward women, and the backlash she felt when Trump ridiculed her afterward, on the air and on social media. Meanwhile, Nicole Kidman, as Gretchen Carlson, is talking to lawyers (Robin Weigert & Stephen Root, both criminally underused) about facing sexual harassment at Fox, citing comments about her appearance and personality, from colleagues and Ailes himself. Also, one of her staff, Margot Robbie as Kayla Something (it turns out this character is fictitious), is leaving her to join Bill O'Reilly's, where Kate McKinnon takes her under her wing to explain certain realities about working for Fox News in general, rather than Carlson's apparent outlier of a show/staff, such as the impolitic nature of mentioning Rush Limbaugh around O'Reilly. Kayla is a self-described evangelical millennial who loves Fox News and wants desperately to climb the ladder, taking advantage of an acquaintance with Ailes' secretary (the good professor from Legally Blonde & the mom from Two and a Half Men) to obtain some facetime with the boss.

It goes about as well as you'd expect in a movie about sexual harassment.

I don't know much about the scandal itself, or the people involved. Most of the names who came up, if I recognized them, it was not generally with affection. I have seen and heard more of Megyn Kelly than almost any of the other personalities appearing in the film combined. Theron's performance as Kelly is remarkable, once you can ignore that her voice pretty much sounds like Theron with a cold. Robbie is a dead-ringer for Kayla</sarcasm>, whose fictitious status lets them make up things for dramatic license. I can't say for sure about Carlson, about whom I knew nothing until the news broke about her lawsuit, but Kidman seems to be trying very hard to fit a persona, and the voice sounds babyish, which does not incline me to like her at all. (Seriously, if I was handed a time machine, a search engine for historical figures' cradles and a garotte, Eartha Kitt would be higher on my itinerary than Hitler)

Lithgow gives a typically excellent performance as Ailes, and the portrayal of Ailes is interesting, because he's usually right, except in relation to his pursuit of sex. Some things the film has him say or do sound offensive, harsh or cruel, and might be out of line in another business...but he's in television. His mantra of "it's a visual medium" is no less true for his abusing that truth for his own gratification. There's also a very good confrontation between Kelly & Kayla, where the latter calls out the former for her decade of silence regarding Ailes' predilections and what it has meant to future victims. Kelly, in turn, denies responsibility in a manner, that while seeming cruel (and ducking her legitimate moral culpability), also points out that her actions don't govern Kayla's decisions, namely, to pursue fame & fortune, or go back for more, once she had a pretty good idea of what the price was.

Because that's a thing this movie shows, whether it knows it or not, that these choices are complex and people aren't black and white. As Kelly admits when describing Ailes' pattern of using advice to get close to his targets, his advice was always good. The movie makes much of the exploitation of the looks and figures of Fox's on-air personnel, and traces that to Ailes and his interest in leering at women's bodies, but Roger Ailes was apparently very good at his job, which was not furthering the ambitions and dreams of attractive women, but getting people to watch Fox News. Ailes complains to the Murdochs when the accusations become public that he has, in fact, made a lot of women successful and famous and given them chances no one else would. Except of course, the flipside to his defense of his sexually-tinged demands, is that putting attractive women on the air got him viewers. If banning women from the TV screen would have got him better ratings, he'd have likely done that as well. And, of course, doing something immoral or exploitative for higher ratings is not a justification either. As a socio-political issue, these were not exactly slaves or dependent minors. They were people who wanted to be on television, and were willing to compromise their sense of modesty or comfort level with exploitative clothing in order to do so. Ailes' asking people to do it does not relieve the responsibility for their choice on people who said yes. It's the same as with Kelly's character's silence on her sexual harassment. She didn't want any trouble, she didn't want to hurt her career, she didn't want the attention (as she asserts, anticipating fallout from her confrontation with Trump, she hates being the subject of a story, rather than the one telling the story about people who might equally hate being the subject of such - and unlike Kelly, did not pursue a career in front of a TV camera)... and these are valid excuses, since when? Maybe they can't (or shouldn't) be able to sue you, or throw you in jail for that, but as the film points out, by keeping quiet about wrongdoing, you are contributing to the future victimization of others.

Another interesting thing illustrated (perhaps unwittingly) about the nature of sexual harassment and the environment is the double standard under which men labor as suspects. When a known homosexual female senior coworker & cubicle-mate makes suggestive remarks about clothing and looks of a woman, there's no assumption of sexual harassment. She can invite an attractive young female coworker to crash at her place after a night out, the girl can strip down to her underwear and get in the same bed, and there is no consideration of this compromising their working relationship. A female-attracted coworker can make the exact same sorts of comments Gretchen Carlson cites as evidence of a sexual-harassment environment, with no assumption of exploitation...if she's female. She can literally say the exact same thing as a man, and in a movie about sexual harassment in which women are not given a pass for contributing to a negative atmosphere, nothing is made of it. The ASSUMPTION for a female-attracted man, is that such talk is degrading or exploitative or indicative of a sexual interest. Even a married man, who has sworn an oath (which is the only credibility standard for a rando off the street who wants to make unsubstantiated allegations against a Republican politician) to refrain from sexual relations with anyone else, is presumed to have such an interest, before a female-attracted single woman. Kelly also points out to a mixed-gender trio of coworkers (and sympathetically-portrayed characters), that aspects of Ailes' personality or behavior that infer certain sexual proclivities or interests, do not prove he actually has those interests or acts on them. But the natural suspicions and inferences create a climate where people can think an accusation, however unfounded or unsupported, fits what they know. "Roger seems like the kind of guy who's into garter belts" isn't evidence, it isn't an argument and it should not be journalism, anymore than "Look at how these women at Fox dress! Why are they surprised when guys hit on them?"

Anyway, as far as the movie's relevance to real life events...eh. I have no real knowledge. The nature of the swipes at Fox and its audience along the way is more easily inferred from who's doing the talking, than from what's actually said. I've spent more time watching the "Lethal Weapon" movies and TV show than Fox News, which leads to an unfortunate tendency to combine 'Roger Ailes' & 'Rupert Murdoch' into 'Roger Murdoch' and forget whether he's the guy who runs the network or the one who owns it. I don't know much about O'Reilly or Hannity or Jeanine Pirro or Greta Van Sustern (Anne Ramsey) or Neil Cavuto (though I know a lot of these people, as well as their employer, Murdoch, were never-Trumpers, which in recent years I have come to correlate with GOP members who seem to be party-hacks rather than principled activists, much less journalists). I'm aware of who Geraldo Rivera is, and was made to watch an episode of his show plugging JFK assassination conspiracies when I was in 6th or 7th grade, but this is not a game in which I have any skin, so I can't say how this will all fly with someone more knowledgeable or appreciative of Fox News.

But the movie, I felt, did a really good job of portraying a complex situation and complex characters, instead of a morality tale or hatchet job using dramatic license.

Cannoli
“Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.” GK Chesteron
Inde muagdhe Aes Sedai misain ye!
Deus Vult!
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This message last edited by Cannoli on 03/01/2020 at 12:21:10 PM
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Bombshells - 03/01/2020 12:38:54 AM 101 Views

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