Dir: Jay Roach
In the wake of the #metoo era, this is one of the first major films to dramatize a high profile case but I’m sure it won’t be the last, undoubtedly there are interesting if uncomfortable stories to be told and this depicts just a few of them in one neatly interconnected story.
Three women (Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie) at different points in their careers are subjected to sexual harassment while working at Fox News.
I found it somewhat odd that this film was written and directed by men, especially when I realized Jay Roach is the director of the ‘Austin Powers’ trilogy which is a huge tonal shift and from someone I wouldn’t have expected, but he along with writer Charles Randolph (‘The Big Short’) seems to know how to strike a fitting tone, one that made me feel uncomfortable watching certain scenes, though nothing in comparison to how the characters depicted must have felt, and exactly what you should be feeling watching these encounters and the way they’re handled.
Theron, Kidman, Robbie, any single one of these actresses would be great casting for a film like this, a fantastic lead performance you can build a film around and draw attention to, but to have all three and the way they depict their respective characters’ similar experiences but differing circumstances is what makes the film so effective. This ensemble was rightly highlighted in the film’s promotion, the posters use a clearly manufactured moment, written for dramatic effect and to bring the leads together in one shot, not as effective in the film as it is for marketing but still a great image.
I don’t know that I need to examine each of the lead roles in turn, as the film rightly doesn’t take the impact one has over another as being more valuable, it’s the cumulative effect, these three bringing together their shared experiences that have world-changing results. This is true for the film too, the performances are all strong, but all the more so for being together in this interwoven storyline that supports each character’s thread with the others.
Despite the powerful performances, I have to say that to me it didn’t feel though it hit as hard as some other ‘expose’ films, I’m thinking for example of ‘Spotlight’ or ‘The Big Short’ that took the way real events were uncovered and then made a feature film out of the people involved. It’s still very recent, even current, more so than those, and so I think that may partly be why. I wrote the preceding sentences before I realized that the writer of this also wrote ‘The Big Short’, so clearly, that explains why some of the same vibes come across.
It’s impossible to talk about this film without noting that the make-up and prosthetics are incredible. It’s no surprise that this earnt the film one of the three Academy Award nominations and was the field in which it triumphed. Charlize Theron’s transformation into Megyn Kelly is incredible. Kelly is not a household name here in the UK but thanks to her work covering Presidential debates and suchlike I’m quite familiar with her from the clips that get replayed or make the news and so I know what she looks like. There were so many points while watching this film where I kept wondering if it was making use of stock footage of Megyn Kelly herself and not shot with Charlize Theron, it took a while before I could stop thinking about that and just accept that it’s Theron throughout.
John Lithgow as Roger Ailes was possibly the weakest, not his performance, that was excellent, very unsettling, it’s more the heavy prosthetics transformation that felt less effective than on others. I don’t know what Ailes actually looks like, but while I could almost completely forget that it was Charlize Theron playing Megyn Kelly, I recognized John Lithgow right away and didn’t ever forget it was him. That’s not a failing on his part, maybe his face is just particularly distinguishable even with the makeup, but nevertheless, I found it to be the case.
The last few scenes of the film feature a possibly more internationally recognizable figure, played by a very recognizable actor, which I found strangely unnerving, especially as the physical resemblance works pretty effectively.
Performance-wise, the weak point for me was Kate McKinnon who feels like she went directly from filming her part in ‘Yesterday’ into filming for this and it’s jarring, she veers a little too far into her wheelhouse of comedic performance which doesn’t feel like an ideal fit. Her role is small and she’s good enough but comes across as not having the tone right, though that’s more a failure of the director than her, they must have known and wanted her skills when she was cast for the role but it feels a little too close to a quirky comedy turn for a film that deals with such serious issues and with other characters playing their roles with almost unwavering gravitas.
Deservedly winning at both the BAFTAs and Academy Awards for the Hair and Make-Up work, this was a really interesting film to watch, the strong performances and perspective on the story kept my interest, though it was at times necessarily uncomfortable and I don’t think that I’d be inclined to watch it again anytime soon.