With Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, Kate MacKinnon, John Lithgow.
The poster demonstrates what the movie is about. Fox News hires blonds based on their looks, intelligence a bonus, but shapely legs required. Charlize Theron plays Megyn Kelly, one of the trio in the poster, and the movie begins as she addresses the audience directly, guiding us through the newsroom, introducing us to the men and women who make up the staff, what the staff do, and how the power is or is not shared.
Women are called into see Roger Ailes, the executive in charge of the Fox News Network, and are asked to give a spin. TV is a visual medium he explains. You have to look good to be on the air. The woman we see this happen to is Kayla, played by Margo Robbie, and is a composite of other young women (are any not blonde? I saw a few lesser stars in there with dark hair) in her place, showing off her gams for the boss.
The story takes us through the three women’s professional lives being upended by sexism and the threat of losing status if one did not tolerate the harassment. Megyn Kelly has the most power, since she has the most firmly entrenched show, and is relied on by Ailes to provide the Fox point of view in politics. Gretchen Carlson is humiliated by being delegated to a non-prime time slot, a demotion she is acutely aware of caused by her calling out the company for sexism.
Carlson eventually sues Ailes and indirectly asks her colleagues to bolster her position, and call out the man who debases women. Eventually more women come to her aid, and the settlement of the lawsuit has a nondisclosure clause which gets Carlson to shut up, for a time.
Nicole Kidman wears her blond wig gingerly, almost daring it to fall off it hangs so loosely. All the appearances are extreme, especially the false eyelashes, which lend a note of grotesque exaggeration to the very organs that enable the women to do their job as reporters.
It is hard to feel completely sympathetic for these women. I can’t tell if it is because the movie is directed by a man, who is not at fault for making the movie, or if it is because the women portrayed are largely responsible for selling the Fox brand, which is toxic. I just wonder what it would have been like if a woman had directed it. Would there be quite so much attention to the physical appearance, the costumes, as there is here? There are some good contextual scenes with Kelly’s assistant, a woman who begins the movie pregnant, continues to work up until she goes into labor, and then is shown returning just a few weeks after giving birth. The role of being a working mother is not easy, and this movie gets that.
It is hard to deny the acting chops of these three women. Theron can just give a side-eye new meaning, Kidman knows how to show duplicity at all times. And Robbie’s job of having an affair with another woman is most subtle in what is really at stake when you work in a paternalistic environment such as Fox News. There is little freedom. Just a company line. Kate MacKinnon’s explanation of why her character continues to work at Fox is very touching. Once other networks learn that she works for Fox, they don’t want to hire her.
That will not be the case with these actresses, including MacKinnon. They are all excellent.