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Film / Bombshell (2019)

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Bombshell is a 2019 drama based on the true story of the sexual harassment scandal that rocked Fox News in 2016 when Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit against the network and its infamous CEO Roger Ailes that detailed a culture of sexual harassment and abuse at the network. Fox anchor Megyn Kelly, who had already been in the news because of demeaning comments made about her by then-candidate Donald Trump, finds herself caught up in the scandal alongside her producing partner Kayla Pospisil. Together, the women work to expose the toxicity of the network's culture and bring down Ailes.

The movie is directed by Jay Roach and stars Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly, Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson, Margot Robbie as Kayla Popisil, and John Lithgow as Roger Ailes, as well as Allison Janney, Alice Eve, Mark Duplass, Malcolm McDowell, Connie Britton, and Kate McKinnon.

The movie was released on December 20, 2019. The teaser can be seen here and the full trailer can be seen here.

Tropes associated with Bombshell include:

  • 20 Minutes into the Past: The film was released in 2019 and is set in 2016.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Kayla sleeps with Jess but denies being a lesbian. She may be in denial, though.
    Kayla: I'm not a lesbian.
    Jess: I'm not a Democrat.
  • And I'm the Queen of Sheba: Jess' "I'm not a Democrat" reaction to Kayla claiming she's not a lesbian while in bed together.
  • Armored Closet Gay: Kayla and Jess to a lesser extent as they enter a relationship together during the film's events. Kayla explains to Jess that she is not a lesbian after they sleep together.
    Kayla: I'm on a date.
    Jess: You can't just date a guy and make it go away, Kayla.
  • Awesome Aussie: Lachlan Murdoch keeps his cool and remonstrates Ailes for losing his after the anthrax scare.
  • Bad Boss: Ailes was swift and ruthless in destroying the careers of anyone who criticized his candidates or politics. Also, anyone who attempted to stand up to his gross sexual abuses. Bizarrely, he had a reputation as the opposite of this in-universe as he cultivated a Team Dad role to his favorites until he discarded them.
  • Batman Gambit: Gretchen knew that she would be eventually fired from Fox Network for turning down Ailes' inappropriate behaviors, so she called two lawyers to prepare the bombshell against him, once he kicked her out. She knew that by filling a lawsuit agains him, instead of the entire network, it would be hard for the latter to find lawyers that could cover his ass. She’s also wise enough to note and to record every single conversation between her and Ailes for one year before her dismissal, in other to get concrete proofs against him, and waited to let them public until the right time, to make Ailes’ claims even more unbelievable and indefensible. All she had to do was to wait that some of Ailes’ victims inside the Fox Network would speak up and join her cause (which it happens in the climax thanks to Megyn Kelly). Gretchen “does her homework”, indeed.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The victims come forward and Ailes is fired but replaced. But Kayla finds the courage to quit her job at Fox and move on to something else. Furthermore, while she wins the cause, Gretchen is forced to sign the non-disclosure agreement, preventing her and the victims to speak of it again. Today, Gretchen is still trying to make the agreement null.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: The antagonists (Donald Trump and Roger Ailes) are sleazy misogynistic rapists and the "heroes" of the story are transphobic, racist hatemongers, only sympathetic because no one deserves to be treated like they were.
  • Blonde Republican Sex Kitten: The film revolves around a group of conservative women who work at a mostly-male conservative news network. A darker side to this trope is also shown with the women involved being on the receiving end of sexual misconduct from members of the mostly-male workforce there.
  • Boomerang Bigot: Jess is a lesbian who spreads hate against LGBT people as part of her job.
  • Broken Pedestal:
    • Kayla was an utter believer in Fox News and Roger Ailes. Then she worked for them...
    • A Downplayed Trope example with Ailes as, weirdly, he had a paternal and friendly relationship with many of the women at Fox News. Also, to the staff in general. It made his mercurial moods, ruthlessness, and Sexual Extortion all the more shocking. Eventually, most of the women come around to view him as a monster.
  • Butch Lesbian: Jess.
  • Casting Couch: A brutal Deconstruction of the concept with Ailes traumatizing many women with his actions. The fact they're already his employees makes the power imbalance even worse. The movie highlights how this trope is used in-universe to justify Ailes actions in the office. The culture normalizes it as does Ailes jovial and fatherly attitude (that makes it even worse in some ways).
  • Caught on Tape: Unbeknown to Roger, in 2014 Gretchen Carlson secretly recorded with her iPhone every single conversation with him for an entire year, knowing full well that she needed concrete proofs to sue him. She’s also wise enough to not let them public right away, but waiting until the right time arrived, to make Roger’ claims even more indefensible.
  • Cavalry Betrayal: Gretchen Carlson is stunned by the dog pilling she gets from fellow women.
  • City People Eat Sushi: Beth apparently sees sushi as food for big-city, limousine liberal types. When she catches her assistant eating it, the assistant tries to downplay it by stressing that she got it from a gas station and weakly protests, "It's not liberal food," but Beth isn't buying it.
  • Composite Character:
    • Kayla Pospisil is a composite of a number of different Fox News workers who suffered harassment at the hands of Roger Ailes.
    • Jess Carr is also a composite of different Fox News workers with the added conflict of being a closeted lesbian.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Gretchen Carlson.
  • Decadent Court: Implied by Kelly at one point as to why women don't band together against Ailes. The women of Fox News are all out for their careers and are each other's direct competitors.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Even the most sympathetic characters exhibit casual bigotry and view "feminist" as an insult.
  • Dirty Old Man: Ailes is a sleazy, paranoid and manipulative geezer who gets his jollies sexually coercing and exploiting his female staff and giving them enough favors in his business so a lot of them feel that they owe him no matter how they are treated.
  • Double-Meaning Title: "Bombshell," referring either to the phrase "blonde bombshell", which describes how the three main women—and just about every woman at Fox—look, or to the stunning revelations about Ailes.
  • Dropping the Bombshell: Invoked. As revenge for getting fired from Fox Network for resisting Ailes’s inappropriate behaviors, Gretchen decides to sue and expose him for taking advantage of his power differential over his female employees, forcing them to give him sexual favors to keep their job.
  • Everyone Has Standards: When Ailes is caught dead to rights with his philandering, his boss, Rupert Murdoch, is prepared to get him to resign with a large severance. By contrast, Murdoch's sons, who obviously despise Ailes, would have loved to flat-out fire him for cause and say so to his face.
  • Fat Bastard: Ailes is fat, manipulative and monstrous.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Ailes actually has a Villain with Good Publicity reputation among the women at Fox News that makes a lot of women conflicted in their feelings about him, particularly Kelly. He adopts a fatherly approach to them in-between demanding Sex for Services and often makes personal gestures for his staff like making sure their medical costs are paid for as well as preventing the firing of a gay staff member. It makes his power over them and ruthlessless all the more shocking when it's invoked.
  • Fan Disservice: Ailes forcing an uncomfortable Kayla to lift up her dress, exposing her underwear while he watches hungrily.
  • Fox News Liberal: Jess Carr, who is both closeted as a lesbian and as a liberal. To a lesser degree Gretchen Carlson for arguing in favor of an assault weapons ban.
  • Friday Night Death Slot: In-universe, Gretchen claims she was moved to a mid-afternoon time (a time well-known for poor ratings) after rebuffing Ailes' advances.
  • The Fundamentalist: Kayla is an evangelical Christian influencer who doesn't know anything about secular music.
  • Gilligan Cut: When the backlash begins against Ailes online, many members of Fox News are shocked and decrying the critiques. Four identically dressed women look at one of the comments and say "No-one told me to dress like this!". Smash cut to the women's dressing room where the presenters are putting themselves through hell to fit into one of the (admittedly very many) dresses laid out, with a supervisor telling one that trousers are not approved by the second floor.
    • Possibly subverted in this scene as well; as no-one is speciffically told what they MUST wear, only what they cannot.
  • Hollywood Beauty Standards: The gorgeous young women at Fox, no matter how slim, are often seen wearing Spanx under their miniskirts, obviously to fit the narrow standard of beauty set by Ailes for tall, blonde, slim women despite him not being any of those things.
  • Hypocrite: Deliberately invoked.
    • Kayla Pospisil is happy to engage in a lesbian affair while seeing no dissonance with her ultra-conservative views.
    • Jess Carr is a liberal Democrat but gladly promotes Fox News' views to aid her career.
  • The Ingenue: Kayla is the closest thing to an ingenue the setting's Black-and-Gray Morality will allow. She's outwardly kind, sweet-natured, polite and optimistic but just as casually transphobic and racist as everyone else.
  • In-Series Nickname: Each department in Fox News is referred to by the floor the offices are on. Roger Ailes (and all his immediate deputies) are on the "Second Floor", and whenever the second floor is mentioned it's assumed that whatever decision or directive it refers to came directly from him.
  • Kick the Dog: Ailes has been brought down, and is sitting with the Murdoch family as they cashier him. He asks Rupert Murdoch to let him stand next to him as he says goodbye to his newsroom. Rupert flatly says no, and Ailes is done and dusted. It's the only sort of punishment he faces throughout the course of the film.
  • Leg Focus: Invoked by Ailes, who not only seems to base his hiring and promotions on how a woman looks, but insists on outfits and camera angles that show off their legs, insisting that that's what the viewers want too. After he is fired, the woman employees start to wear pants.
  • Let Us Never Speak of This Again: While she wins the cause, Gretchen is forced to sign the non-disclosure agreement, preventing her and the victims to speak of it again. Today, Gretchen is still trying to make the agreement null.
  • No Sympathy: Ailes looks to the Murdoch family for sympathy, only to find all of Rupert's children want him gone in a far less comfortable manner than their father.
    "I'd have fired you for cause."
  • Open Secret: Ailes' treatment of women around him isn't exactly hidden.
    "You know why Roger has that door blocking his office."
  • Properly Paranoid: Kelly notes that if anyone questions the women complaining about the work conditions, there are the facts such as the supposedly "confidential" complaint line actually has a contractual obligation to inform management of what is said on it and who is using it.
  • Rape Discretion Shot: During an emotional phone call, Kayla reveals to Jess that Ailes raped her. He didn't even unbuckle his pants.
  • Rape and Switch: After being raped by Ailes (off-screen), Kayla tries going on a date with a guy to forget about it. As Jess remarks, it doesn't work.
  • Sadly Mythtaken: In universe, Megyn insists that "Jesus was a white male".
  • Sex for Services: How Ailes (and by implication other Fox News executives) view their activities. Ailes justifies his Sexual Extortion as believing the women get ahead in their careers in exchange for pleasing him. The gross power imbalance and the cost to their careers if they refuse makes it much, much worse than that, though. Disturbingly, Ailes' attitude apparently infects many of the women on staff.
  • Sexual Extortion: The plot of the movie. In addition to engaging in constant sexual harassment of the women and objectification, he also blackmails them into sex by promising to aid them in their career with the implicit threat of destroying it if they refuse.
  • Significant Wardrobe Shift: After Ailes has been jettisoned, the female staff come to work wearing comfortable clothing and trousers instead of the figure-hugging dresses and high heels they had previously been wearing; a visual signal that the sexist work culture that Ailes had fostered has been somewhat diminished.
  • Social Darwinist: Kelly has this attitude, initially, where she considers Kayla a snowflake for not being able to tough it out on her own.
  • Skewed Priorities: Kayla is more concerned about possibly bringing a Democrat home to meet her parents than the whole "lesbian" thing while talking in bed with Jess.
  • Statuesque Stunner: Most of the anchors at Fox News are tall, blonde, and gorgeous. What do you expect considering a Dirty Old Man is hiring them?
  • Straw Feminist: How Gretchen is drawn by Fox News after her lawsuit with many women drawn in to slander her. Fear of being labeled this trope is actually why Megyn Kelly denies being a feminist.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: Beth's assistant explains that she's eating "gas station sushi," and then, apropos of nothing, declares, "It's not liberal food!" Beth's look of derision makes it clear why she felt the need to say this.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: Someone may have poisoned Megyn's coffee.
  • Title Drop: The news announcing Megyn Kelly was sexually harassed by Roger Ailes.
    News Speaker: Fox News star, Gretchen Carlson, dropped a major bombshell today.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Roger Ailes, a Fat Bastard, is married to Beth (Connie Britton), who is a Silver Vixen.
  • Uncomfortable Elevator Moment: The teaser trailer depicts a tense ride in an elevator with Kelly, Carlson, and Pospisil.
  • Villain of Another Story: The film doesn't shy away from the fact that our protagonists, no matter how sympathetic they are in the context of the story, are still amoral right wing pundits who make their living spreading hate against minorities. A woman at the grocery store even calls Gretchen out on it.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Ailes is considered to be a lovable old grandpa at Fox News to many of the employees. So much so that many of the women suffer cognitive dissonance about his sexual harassment and extortion.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: Megyn vomits in the toilets with only her feet visible. Due to someone poisoning her coffee.