Why Fox News scandal drama Bombshell appears primed for awards success
Oscar season loves a meaty, capital-I Issue drama, and may have finally found its prime candidate for 2019-20: Bombshell (out Dec. 20), which screened for select audiences at Los Angeles’ Pacific Design Center on Sunday, with director Jay Roach and stars Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, and Margot Robbie all in attendance for the splashy rollout. (A reception followed, with all three actresses mingling over cocktails.)
Various costars from the film were spotted at the event, as were other Hollywood darlings including Andie MacDowell. The movie had been something of a question-mark when it came to awards; budgeted at a relatively hefty $30-plus million and bypassing the fall festival circuit, it’s one of this cycle’s later entrants, and comes from a director in Jay Roach whose theatrical work has tended to meet mixed reviews. (His feature films haven’t topped 75 percent on Rotten Tomatoes since 1999’s Meet the Parents, his last being Trumbo, starring Oscar-nominated Bryan Cranston.) But the industry showed up for this one with force.
And Bombshell finds Roach in his element. The story behind the sexual misconduct allegations against former Fox News chief Roger Ailes (played here by John Lithgow) and various network personalities is fashioned as a stylish, speedy, starry political thriller, of the kind that Roach has been churning to Emmy-winning effect on HBO for years: see Game Change, which starred Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin, and All the Way, the Cranston-led LBJ docudrama. Bombshell is told on a grander scale, bolstered with even more A-listers playing major public figures. Theron centers this telling as Megyn Kelly, going for a thorough embodiment of the former Fox host, prosthetics and all; Kidman and Robbie lend support as, respectively, Gretchen Carlson and Kayla Pospisil (the latter of whom is a composite).
Bombshell’s debut leaves just a few potential awards players left to screen. EW can confirm that Little Women’s official launch for press and industry is coming soon, and beyond that, the Mark Ruffalo vehicle Dark Waters and Sam Mendes war drama 1917 will get a push as well.
Reactions at the Bombshell event — very much tailored as an awards launching paid — were quite strong, and it’s clear Bombshell will receive a campaign across the board. I expect reviews to be a bit more mixed than this first wave of buzz, as often happens; the beginning, particularly, is a little clunky and oddly comic, and some issues merit a more complex treatment than they receive. But the film contains undeniable momentum, and several scenes of searing power. In that sense, the film should hope to go down a road similar to last year’s Vice: a movie that thrived on the strength of its real-world echoes, accessible provocations, juicy performances, and crowd-pleasing elements. Importantly, Roach and writer Charles Randolph (The Big Short) ensure that the alleged victims at the center of the story remain nuanced and human.
Theron, also a producer, introduced the film to audiences on Sunday. She’s a serious contender for multiple nominations here: Not everyone will view her Kelly turn as uncanny, per se, but she has several moments that are eerily on-point, and she admirably, even soulfully occupies a difficult middle ground. (Kelly’s on-the-record testimony that Ailes harassed her is arguably what ultimately brought the man down, but the film reminds there’s a reason why she remains a controversial figure.) Expect Theron to score her first Best Actress nod in over a decade. On the Best Picture side, Bombshell looks like a bubble contender right now; its late release means it’ll need to really keep up the pace as a slew of other major contenders roll out around the same time. Further, it’s unlikely that Roach fits into the Best Director five.
All that said, the biggest awards story to come out of Bombshell is Margot Robbie. Where Best Supporting Actress had felt a little thin — led, to this point, by Jennifer Lopez (Hustlers) and Laura Dern (Marriage Story) — the I, Tonya star instantly makes things more interesting with a shattering performance. Kayla, based on interviews Randolph and Roach conducted with various Ailes accusers as well as testimonials from others, is the heart of the film in many ways, a Fox News true believer whose wide-eyed optimism is quickly, brutally quelled. There’s humor and warmth to Robbie’s turn, and near the film’s conclusion, she gets a scene that Oscar clips are made for. No spoilers, but it’s devastatingly good work, and really what the film leaves you with. (Kidman, meanwhile, could get looped in as well if the movie ends up receiving a lot of love — she’s great in her own right — but is a bit more in the background here.)
More broadly, this awards season is shaping up to focus on Fox News’ scandals on multiple fronts. Also set to compete at ceremonies including the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards is The Loudest Voice, Showtime’s miniseries starring a transformed Russell Crowe as Ailes, and more prominently featuring Carlson as a character, here portrayed by Naomi Watts. It’s an unusual bit of paralleling, one that could help or hurt Bombshell as it ramps up its own campaign machine. But one thing’s for sure: With Theron, Kidman, and Robbie out on the trail, voters will be paying attention.