Review: Overstuffed 'Breaking News in Yuba County' squanders talented ensemble
Courtesy of MGM
Sue Buttons is looking for validation in a quiet, harmless little town inside the jurisdiction of Yuba County. Nobody remembered her birthday, her husband is having an affair, and the one news story that’s soaking up the airwaves is the disappearance of 13-year-old Emma Rose. What’s Sue Buttons to do?
Tate Taylor’s inspired though woefully misguided dark comedy “Breaking News In Yuba County” explores Sue Buttons’ narrative, but not before delving into the subplots of several characters played by recognizable actors. If there’s one thing Taylor can accomplish, it’s bringing together a stacked cast. Unfortunately, the 96 minute “Yuba County” doesn’t know how to utilize them, resulting in a hodge-podge of slapstick humor that plays like recycled bits of a failed sitcom pilot. In that medium, audiences would explore who these characters are, but in Amanda Idoko’s scattershot feature-length script, they’re left fighting for screen-time.
Taylor - returning to his suburban homegrown roots that made “The Help” a smash hit - gets lost in his schmutzy style. Characters have names but their motivations are razor thin and the film tries to blend the mystery of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” with the dramatic irony of “Drowning Mona” to no avail. An ensemble featuring - deep breath - Allison Janney, Mila Kunis, Juliette Lewis, Awkwafina, Jimmi Simpson, Clifton Collins Jr, Wanda Sykes, Regina King, Samira Wile and Matthew Modine are rendered useless because the script doesn’t know which direction to take them. The breaking news of this movie is how a cast this impeccable fails to land a single laugh.
Idoko’s script 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 any hope for redemption stranded in the backroads. Oscar winner Allison Janney plays Sue Buttons who’s life is a meaningless assortment of working through her crappy telecommunications job and finding moments for self affirmation. Her sister, Nancy (Kunis) is a rising news anchor vying for a big scoop in hopes of unseating rival and ratings behemoth Gloria Michaels (Juliette Lewis).
When Sue’s husband Karl (Matthew Modine) suffers a heart attack and dies while getting caught cheating, instead of reporting it to the police the introverted, rarely seen or heard housewife seizes the opportunity to attract that public spotlight of sympathy. She concots a fictionalized story around Karl’s disappearance, enlisting Nancy to break the story, and garners the attention of two police detectives (Regina Hall and T.C. Matherine) who suspect foul play.
Meanwhile, Karl’s brother Petey (Jimmi Simpson) who works for Rita (Wanda Sykes) assumes two old thugs he messed around with (Awkwafina and Clifton Collins Jr.) are holding his brother ransom, and the wheels keep spinning, people are double crossed and the body count rises as we learn Yuba County is filled with dark secrets. Most, if not all, of the subplots in “Yuba County” have the capabilities of filling their own mini-series, but not enough to sustain 96 minutes of whatever Idoko cooks-up. It eventually becomes a giant spider-web that’s hard to untangle and Jeff Beal’s canned score lacks the sufficient spunk needed for Taylor’s expansive storytelling.
By the time we reached the finale, it wasn’t so much you cared about where things ended up, but how they logically arrived at their destination. These loosely connected one-note characters are brought together by flimsy circumstances and offer zero credibility for the overall goal of “Yuba County.” At one point, I forgot Kunis had a role until she conveniently shows up in the last half hour. Perhaps Kunis was on set that day and Idoko decided to write something for her?
The plot’s mysterious elements and the story gradually building to unexpected places suggests the “Gone Girl” style approach might have worked in the correct hands, but for Taylor he gets weighed down by his own balancing act. He wants to explore every corridor of Yuba County and forgets to have fun with his ridiculous premise. I’m surprised a location with this many strange and wacky personalities could be so boring.
BREAKING NEWS IN YUBA COUNTY opens in select theaters and digital Friday, February 12th