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Jeff Simon

'Bombshell' is dropped on media sex abuse

Jeff Simon

Make no mistake. "Bombshell" isn't just a movie.

If you're not paying close attention, you might think it's just a slick movie takedown of Roger Ailes and Fox News for the sake of megaplex box office.

Nope. That's not all – or even close. It's a good, watchable movie, mind you – a smart, hugely topical, fleet, and well-written choice for weekend entertainment more grown-up than "Star Wars." But look at the cast for pity's sake: Charlize Theron stars as Megyn Kelly and was one of the film's producers. Nicole Kidman plays Gretchen Carlson, the former Fox News anchor whose filing of a sexual harassment suit against Fox News majordomo Ailes arguably began the #MeToo movement.

Margot Robbie plays a fictional victim of sexual harassment at Fox News. John Lithgow plays Ailes as a blubbery Jabba the Hutt who needs two canes to walk. Allison Janney plays his lawyer Susan Estrich. Kate McKinnon has a likable role as a fictional lesbian in the Fox newsroom. Holland Taylor is uncredited in a small, sly role as Ailes' personal assistant.

Connie Britton plays Ailes' wife. Robin Weigert and Anne Ramsey have small roles, too.

That's not just an unusually gilded cast, that's a small movement meeting. These are actresses making a movie that expresses solidarity with the women at Fox News who made the first major public moves in sexual reckoning.

Look, for heaven's sake, at the late-night marketing of the movie to try and increase its chances against the "Star Wars" box office tsunami. Theron was unusually sobering on Colbert on Wednesday and, on Thursday night, McKinnon was on Jimmy Fallon while Robbie was opposite her selling the film on Jimmy Kimmel. Lithgow was on Seth Meyers later that night.

This is a cause. Sisterhood is powerful. "Bombshell" could stand nicely as Exhibit A.

No, this movie isn't going to be a box office smash. Nor will it bloom into an American turning point toward gender equality in the #MeToo moment we're living in.

But simply as a matter of pop consciousness-raising, nothing in Showtime's miniseries about Ailes, "The Loudest Voice," comes anywhere close to the moment in "Bombshell" when Robbie plays an ambitious young journalist degraded and humiliated into showing her underwear in Ailes' office because she thinks it will help her get on the air.

The movie – it is quickly apparent – is not kidding, even if it's also successful entertainment. Never mind that its director is Jay Roach of "Austin Powers" fame. Its writer Charles Randolph wrote "The Big Short" (a major misfire the way I look at it).

Most importantly, its star and one of its producers is Theron, who has made empowerment into a career for a long time. That's in part because of a notable biographical fact about which everyone in Hollywood knows and which Theron herself has long been willing to discuss with bracing openness (most recently, days ago on NPR). To wit: When she was 15, she and her mother were threatened by her alcoholic father who was shooting at both of them. It resulted in her mother getting a gun and shooting her father to death in self-defense.

It has always been easy for people outside show business to dismiss Theron as a goddess and that's it. Inside show business, she is known as an actress who doesn't kid around. She's out to make movies and, as a consequence, have an effect on the real world.

And she does, whether she plays a female serial killer in "Monster" (for which she won an Oscar) or a politician romanced by Seth Rogen in the ultimate "out of my league" sex comedy "Long Shot."

Theron likes busting barriers. That's why "Bombshell" – which was originally called "Fair and Balanced" – is an edgy empowerment saga about the routine sexual abuses that marked Fox News before Gretchen Carlson fought back.

It must be stressed that this movie isn't so political in its cause that it forgets to be involving entertainment. Nor, for that matter, do Theron and her buddies forget that amid the blonde throngs at Fox News, it was the network where one could hear Kelly reassure its viewers that both Santa Claus and Jesus Christ were white.

Among the major things you're watching in "Bombshell" is Theron fully come into her own as a Hollywood leader in feminist activism on screen.

You're also watching Kidman's continuation in her self-appointed role among fellow actresses as an enabler for all colleagues who need Kidman's clout to help fully achieve their own.

What Kidman did for Reese Witherspoon as a producer of HBO's "Big Little Lies" she now does for Theron in "Bombshell."

In the movie world of 2019, sisterhood isn't just powerful, it's in front of our faces big as life.

It gets movies made. It assembles remarkable casts. It makes pretty good movies and miniseries that may not stand much of a chance against "Star Wars," but which do stand a chance of heartening the souls of those suffering genuine sexual abuse.

I like Hollywoodians with political convictions and a solid feel for what will move other members of the human species.

Especially those, like Theron, whose life and work outside the moneymaking perfume commercials, are a living refutation of all those who insist that Hollywoodians are superficial, frivolous, empty and trivial.

"Bombshell" imparts the hard news to us that Carlson's lawsuit won her a settlement for $20 million from Fox News (less whatever her lawyers took in fees).

Its weekend box office is unlikely to be in that neighborhood, but its ability to entertain and have a heartening effect on anyone who needs it is undeniable.

And for some, perhaps even impressive.

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