Review: Breaking News in Yuba County (2021)

Breaking News in Yuba County (2021)

Directed by: Tate Taylor | 96 minutes | comedy, crime | Actors: Allison Janney, Mila Kunis, Regina Hall, Awkwafina, Wanda Sykes, Ellen Barkin, Matthew Modine, Jimmi Simpson, Keong Sim, Juliette Lewis, Clifton Collins Jr., Samira Wiley, Bridget Everett, TC Matherne, Dominic Burgess

Wallflower Sue Buttons is such a sad character that work, friends and family forget her birthday. What to do with a name like that? Sue (Allison Janney) is mostly concerned with herself. Of course, like millions of Americans, she dreams of a famous and compelling life. But what exactly is her story for those precious minutes on an Oprah Winfrey show? Unsuspecting Sue gets double paid when she makes a shady discovery in a motel and in a moment of stunned reports husband Karl (Matthew Modine) missing. This sets off a chain reaction of events that completely changes her life. Welcome to ‘Breaking News in Yuba County’!: A genuine attempt at a vinegar-pissing comedy about the middle-class American West Coast.

Director Tate Taylor and screenwriter Amando Idoko spoon up so many clichés that you can spell out almost every step of the story. It is a half-baked amalgamation of dryly comical situations from the Coen brothers’ stables, peppered with violent episodes from a Tarantino film. ‘Breaking News in Yuba County’ most closely resembles a second-rate rip-off of ‘Fargo’ (Joel Coen, 1996) but without the snow covering traces of trouble and crime. Yes, there’s also a female detective, Cam Harris (Regina Hall), with a keen nose for smelly business. Incidentally, the detective is not pregnant, which is left to Sue’s sister-in-law Jonelle (Samira Wiley), also a finely tuned lie detector.

‘Breaking News in Yuba County’ lacks a gentle look at the petty citizen. ‘Fargo’, for example, is not primarily a satire, but a mildly comic drama. That’s where things mostly go wrong with Taylor’s film. Not so much with the actors or the okay camera work (choice of music is lousy), but with the great desire to make an all-consuming satire about greed and narcissism, and the resulting opportunism. As such, the film doesn’t carry the heart in the wrong place, it barely has a beating heart. It mainly consists of the confirmation of prejudices about a media-hungry society. It forgets to copy one of the most important parts of a strong Coen film, the compassion for characters, no matter how stupid and selfish they are.

In addition, another problem manifests itself, one that director Taylor and screenwriter Idoko can do little about. That’s the dead end of satire, since the well-to-do citizen no longer has to go to the cinema to see how much more absurd reality can be than your wildest dreams in fiction. You are just one click away from countless ‘reality’ series about the craziness of man and on the online platforms you can easily find your own Sue Buttons. By now everyone is pretty much trained to capitalize on the me and it hardly matters if you’re wearing a crazy hat, provided the views keep pouring in. Taylor and Idoko add nothing further to this.

Producer credits include celebrated Hollywood actor Jake Gyllenhaal who appeared in ‘Night Crawler’ (Dan Gilroy, 2014) among others. The latter film is about a freelancer who interprets journalistic integrity exceptionally broadly and has something essential in common with ‘Breaking News in Yuba County’: the great dismay at sensationalism in the media itself crumbles into easygoing sensation on film. Taylor’s film is clearly hungover from recent events in the American media and politics and then got out of bed on the wrong foot. Relentless and compassion are not very far apart in writing, but in this production it only perpetuates the first: hardly any understanding for the Sue’s in the world.

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