Breaking News in Yuba County Movie Review: Allison Janney shines in this mediocre film
A promising premise and a convincing Allison Janney, notwithstanding, the film’s execution, humour, and supporting cast leave much to be desired
Breaking News in Yuba County attempts going down the same trajectory as black comedies like Burn After Reading or Logan Lucky or even the early films of Guy Ritchie, but fails quite miserably. It’s not as if the film lacks potential for a darkly funny, yet engaging drama. A promising premise wasted, one could say. An under-appreciated married woman; a supposedly missing husband; a sister in media with an axe to grind; a dead-beat brother-in-law trying to stay out of trouble; two mobsters on the prowl; and a cop connecting the dots. Much is packed into the film’s 96-minute run; it’s the execution that is the problem.
The first, and obvious casualty, is its humour. It tries to pass off the crazy coming together of these unlikely individuals as uproarious. You would have to think long and hard to conjure even a single such instance worth mentioning. Protagonist Sue Buttons is the only saving grace, if you can call it that. Thanks to Allison Janney’s character acting prowess, we are prone to empathise with and cheer Sue on; she may have been down on her luck for all this time, but her moment to shine has finally arrived. Despite a perfect set-up for a workable black comedy, it is the acting (with the exception of Janney) that lets the film down through and through.
Director – Tate Taylor
Cast – Allison Janney, Mila Kunis, Regina Hall, Awkwafina, Clifton Collins Jr., Jimmi Simpson, Wanda Sykes, Bridget Everett
From a mediocre Mila Kunis (as Sue’s sister, Nancy) to an over-the-top Wanda Sykes, Breaking News in Yuba County required a cast better suited to the kind of film the makers were going for. And while we witness Sue growing into her own as she regains control and agency through the narrative, the others are reduced to props and caricatures. Though the story cannot be entirely faulted (it is a premise that could have easily worked), it does have some glaring gaps. For instance, how does it take the cops three whole days to go to the motel (where Sue’s husband purportedly abandoned his car) and ask the owner, as an afterthought, for the security footage? Only focusing on inconsistencies in Sue’s ever-changing account, and getting side-tracked by her multiple talk show appearances, instead of carrying out a deeper investigation, doesn’t sound like proper police work, surely?
In the tradition of similarly themed films before it, violence is an integral part of the plot. And in those successful black comedies, instances of shootings, knifings, and murder are usually meant to elicit laughter. Sadly, Breaking News in Yuba County has us viewing such scenes with deadpan faces. The blame lies with the film’s misplaced execution. Another pitfall is its over-eagerness to make you crack up; trying too hard is sometimes as bad as not trying at all.
I return to Allison Janney’s performance to eke out some positives. Her staged act (to gain popularity and support from the community at large) has her cry on cue whenever the circumstances demand. And this is the closest the film comes to any semblance of humour. A scene in which Sue is taken in for questioning by the lead investigator (without a warrant) is a good example. Her story isn’t adding up, and her credibility is at stake, but the mainstream media is having none of that. She plays the aggrieved wife to perfection (tearing up uncontrollably) while stepping out of the police vehicle as journalists and TV cameras swarm around. Sue is aware of the power she wields, and in this age of information overload, what you see is what you believe.
In spite of it being rather dreadful on the whole, the film does get you to back Sue 100 percent. She may be concocting facts and misleading unsuspecting folks, but she deserves the attention coming her way. It is as unlikely an antiheroic character as there is; from a well-intentioned married woman who gets taken advantage of by everyone from her cheating husband and manipulative sister to her dismissive colleagues, a seemingly fortuitous incident has her grow into this shrewd individual ready to play on the public sentiment to further her own ends.
All in all, Breaking News in Yuba County falls way short of its intended mark. The story is well-conceived for the most part, but it is the execution that’s wanting. A good individual performance from Allison Janney isn’t enough to overshadow the film’s poor acting and mediocre attempts at humour.