Synopsis – A woman takes advantage of her growing celebrity status when the police and the public think her dead husband is just missing.
My Take – Right from its first look, this madcap comedy crime thriller seemed to have a lot going for it. A Black List script from Amanda Idoko which looked as quirky and potentially as dark as a Coen Brothers film, a producer in Jake Gyllenhaal, and a director in Tate Taylor, who despite hits (Get on Up, The Girl on the Train) and severe misses (Ava, Ma), has proven to be adept at handling both female-led tales of suburban life and ensembles (The Help).
Unfortunately, though slightly enjoyable, it also leaves you feeling quite over-stuffed for its 96 minutes run time, and woefully under-thought despite an interesting main character to build the premise around. Making matters worse, even the slapstick humor which usually scores in such kind of multilayered narratives, gets tiring a bit too quickly and
the zany proceedings aren’t funny or original enough to stand without it. If there’s one thing it does accomplish, is bringing together a stacked cast of talented performers, who seem to be having a blast in their respective roles. However, it is a shame that the erratic script doesn’t seem to know how to utilize them completely, leaving most fighting for screen-time.
The story follows Sue Buttons (Allison Janney), a Kentucky housewife and customer service call center employee, who is having a very bad birthday. Not only have her self-absorbed news reporter half-sister Nancy (Mila Kunis), her banker husband Karl (Matthew Modine) and her co-workers forgotten her birthday, but she continues to feel undervalued and unloved. Making matters worse is when she finds out that Karl has also been having an affair. Convinced that she doesn’t such treatment, in a fit of rage, Sue walks into him with his mistress, Leah Norton (Bridgett Everett) in bed, a shock, which results in Karl having a heart attack, killing him on the spot.
But instead of calling an ambulance, Sue shoos Leah away, buries Karl’s body with whatever bags he had and decides to get some much needed attention by reporting him missing. Soon becoming a media sensation by lying and tying Karl’s supposed disappearance to the case of a missing teenage girl that has been dominating the local news, especially led by her favorite, Gloria Michaels (Juliette Lewis).
However, leading investigator detective Cam Harris (Regina Hall) is unconvinced about Sue’s story and starts digging, meanwhile, Karl’s brother Petey (Jimmi Simpson), a former thief, who has given up crime for his pregnant girlfriend, Jonelle (Samira Wiley), begins to believe that local gangsters Mina (Awkwafina) and Raj (Clifton Collins Jr.), for whom Karl used to launder money, have abducted him, and seeks the help of his boss, Rita (Wanda Sykes), who is desperate to engage her criminal side, to find the ransom to free him.
And by the time we reach the finale, it wasn’t so much you cared about where things ended up, but how they logically arrived at their destination. The trouble is that there’s simply too much going on at all times. Characters have names but their motivations are razor thin and the film tries to blend familiar mystery into the mix.
The plot’s mysterious elements and the story gradually building to unexpected places suggests a thriller style approach might have worked in the correct hands, but for director Taylor he gets weighed down by his own balancing act. He wants to explore every corridor of Yuba County, making it so hopelessly over plotted that it ceases to be fun or do anything interesting with the ridiculous premise.
While the film is entertaining enough upon first watch, the experience fades from your mind the moment the end credits begin to roll in. The script from Amanda Idoko is just plot heavy in the extreme, and almost none of it is worth caring about since there are too many underdeveloped characters lost in the mix. Though attempts witty takes on how local news can easily be manipulated and the insecurities your typical housewife endures, but the stale direction and airless comedic timing leaves out any hope for improvement as it enters the final act.
Most surprisingly, the film isn’t exactly funny. Sure, there are a few smirks generated by the way these actors are delivering their lines, but nothing that comes out of the situations. None of this is helped by Taylor’s astoundingly limp direction, replete with scenes carelessly tossed together. Much like his 2020 misfire, Ava, director Taylor seems unequipped to create something wacky and fun.
Thankfully, the film benefits from a talented cast, who are up to the task to keep the audience invested. As always, Allison Janney manages to standout as she squeezes everything she can out of the script and allows Sue to become the most fully-developed person in a story full of thin characters and even thinner motives. Mila Kunis is likable, but doesn’t have much to do here, until she randomly shows back up in the last half of the film. Awkwafina shows flashes of joy in a chance to play against type, Jimmi Simpson and Wanda Sykes inject some energy into the proceedings, so does Clifton Collins Jr. and Regina King.
In smaller roles, Juliette Lewis, Samira Wiley, Bridgett Everett, Ellen Barkin, Keong Sim and Matthew Modine also manage to shine. On the whole, ‘Breaking News in Yuba County’ is a woefully misguided dark comedy which despite a great cast is impaired by its stale direction and uneven humor.
Directed – Tate Taylor
Rated – R
Run Time – 96 minutes