Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 12, 2021)
With Allison Janney as the lead, we get a star-studded cast for 2021’s Breaking News In Yuba County. A mix of comedy and thriller, the film introduces us to Sue Buttons (Janney), an unassuming, timid suburban wife.
Sue’s husband Karl (Matthew Modine) goes missing. Inevitably, law enforcement gets involved, and the case brings lots of press attention as well.
After years in her spouse’s shadow, Sue finds that she enjoys all this attention. As such, she concocts a mix of ways to keep the missing person case alive so she can remain in the spotlight, all with a slew of unanticipated consequences.
News received no theatrical exhibition, and that might stem from the restrictions related to the COVID pandemic. A whole bunch of movies went straight to video after the “lockdowns” of 2020, so perhaps it shouldn’t shock that News joined that club.
Still, given the flick’s pedigree, I do feel surprised that News got so little attention. For one, Tate Taylor – the man behind hits like The Help and Ma - directed it.
For another, News boasts a strong cast. In addition to Janney and Modine, we get “names” like Awkwafina, Mila Kunis, Ellen Barkin, Regina Hall, Wanda Sykes, Juliette Lewis and others.
That might not become the most star-studded group of actors ever, but it still offers a high-powered group. All this talent seems like a cast and crew that would muster at least a moderate theatrical run in the US.
Perhaps News went straight to video simply because it’s not very good. While it comes with occasional entertainment, the movie flails too much of the time.
Expect a serious Coen brothers feel, with a particular nod toward Burn After Reading. Both offer the same form of arch, ironic dark comedy.
Unfortunately, News just can’t make this work. It shoots for a wildly quirky feel but it lacks an organic impression, so it seems kooky for kooky’s sake.
Taylor just feels like a pretender behind the camera. He appears to do better with more earnest material, so here, I get the impression he wants to shoot for a cynical vibe that he can’t achieve.
In addition, the ensemble plot fails to gel. While Sue sits at the core, News casts a broad net, and this means we get sketchy characters without much depth.
The overqualified cast helps make these roles more interesting than should probably become the case. Nonetheless, they can only do so much.
Despite these flaws, News manages moderate entertainment – again, largely due to the charms of the actors. This doesn’t seem like enough to turn the movie into anything more than a sporadic pleasure, though.