Premiering on Feb. 12 through video on demand, the comedy-drama “Breaking News in Yuba County,” which features an all-star cast, immerses viewers in a dark, yet funny, calamity.
Sue Buttons (Allison Janney) is a kind and timid woman. Underappreciated by the people in her life, she buys herself a cake on her birthday while reciting her daily affirmations. Her life is simple and slow in Yuba County, California. But when she catches her husband Karl (Matthew Modine) cheating on her and he dies of a heart attack she decides to finally take matters into her own hands, using her daily affirmations as her guide. “My story matters. I am important,” she reminds herself. However, over the span of three days Sue, and the lives of those entangled in hers, quickly begin to dissolve.
It might not be an original concept, occasionally echoing great drama films such as “Goodfellas” (1990) and “Burn After Reading” (2008), but “Breaking News in Yuba Country” is a well-written story that manages to successfully shine on its own and utilize each of its cast members’ strengths. Using Sue as an entry point into the world of Yuba County, the film meticulously weaves the lives of distinct characters until everything and everyone unravels in a pile of blood.
This beautifully constructed chaos is by no means easy to achieve. Such a well-known cast can either make or break a film, especially a drama that weaves in so many different characters, regardless of its director and crew. However, screenwriter Amanda Idoko crafts a distinct and gripping drama that manages to balance all of its characters and provide viewers with plenty of authentically hilarious bits of comedy.
The film also calls attention to journalism ethics and standards particularly through Sue’s relationship with her half-sister Nancy (Mila Kunis), a reporter for KTV Channel two. Seeing how popular TV host Gloria Michaels (Juliette Lewis) dedicates all her air time to reporting on Emma Rose, a local teenager gone missing, Sue begins to crave that same level of media coverage. “My story matters,” she reminds herself. However, when Sue asks Nancy whether she should bring her story to Gloria, Nancy says no. “Because they wouldn’t give you the attention that you deserve. But I will,” she explains. “Because you’re my sister.” In this moment viewers see how both Sue and Nancy benefit in their own ways by working together, breaking various ethical guidelines such as conflict of interest. In fact, this moment emphasizes that Nancy is just as manipulative as Sue through her use of familial connections to cover the story before any other station, specifically Gloria Michaels’ show.
This theme of unethical journalism is also visible right before Nancy films her interview with Sue. Subtly prompting what kind of emotions Sue should display during the interview, Nancy represents the kinds of reporters who go beyond asking their subjects questions and instead feed them quotes that would make for a good story. This added layer of conflict makes the film even more thrilling to watch as the story unfolds. But beyond its great writing and tense themes, it becomes clear by the end of the film that its cast is what truly illuminates the life within Yuba County.
With such a well-known cast, each of the characters in “Breaking News in Yuba County” contributes to the twisted charm of the film in their own ways. However, it was Detective Cam Harris (Regina Hall) and Rita (Wanda Sykes) who stole the show with their effortless and captivating performances. Providing hilariously realistic lines and evoking all kinds of emotions they give viewers a reason to continue watching. Not only did Cam and Rita feel essential like essential characters, but Hall and Sykes themselves are vital to the existence of their characters. Featuring one of the film’s most memorable lines, “I swear to you these white bitches are crazy,” Cam represents the film’s core connection to the audience. She is more than a character, she’s a viewer among us.
Immersive from the first to the final scene, “Breaking News in Yuba County” is a refreshing and exciting watch for all kinds of movie lovers. Idoko’s writing shines through every moment, grabbing viewers by the hand and pulling them into this dark, twisted world.
“Breaking News in Yuba County” is currently available on video on demand.
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