“To get ahead, you gotta give a little head,” joked former chairman and chief executive of Fox News Roger Ailes, before the 76-year-old was brought to his knees by allegations of sexual harassment in 2016, one year before his death. When Gretchen Carlson (a fabulously brittle Nicole Kidman) files a lawsuit against Ailes (John Lithgow) after being dropped by the network, she inspires a wave of confessions from other women. This glossy portrayal of Ailes’s downfall secured Oscar nominations last week for Charlize Theron, as anchor Megyn Kelly, and Margot Robbie, as fictionalised “evangelical millennial” news producer Kayla Pospisil. The tale is current, its moment for telling ripe.
Unfortunately the tone is all over the place. Direct to camera addresses, one-liners about sushi being “liberal food”, and Kate McKinnon’s closeted Democrat lesbian producer scan as satire. It’s grimly funny when fresh hire Rudi Bakhtiar (Nazanin Boniadi) details the mental gymnastics a woman must perform to save face when her boss invites himself up to her hotel room: “Just look confused,” says her inner monologue. Yet the performances are utterly earnest. The ambitious Kayla is pleased to score a meeting with Ailes, but Robbie’s wide eyes soon fill with hot tears as she is coerced and humiliated.
The film can’t square the fact that its protagonists are the victims of sexism and yet perpetuate it by sheer virtue of working for a rightwing news channel. What happened to these women is appalling; that the film takes such pains to sand down the politics of its central characters to make them more sympathetic undermines its entire thesis. Kelly’s racist attitudes are smoothed over, while Carlson’s homophobia is conveniently erased. Fox’s complicity in bringing the president to power is also merely winked at (Malcolm McDowell’s Rupert Murdoch makes a friendly phone call to “Donald”). Instead of confronting this tension, it pats itself on the back, ending with a title card that celebrates how these women “got the Murdochs to put the rights of women above profits, however temporarily”.
Source: The Guardian