October 25, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

‘Breaking News in Yuba County’ review: Allison Janney stars

“Breaking News in Yuba County” seems to be a stab at dark comedy, an ensemble crime romp commenting via sideswipe on TV news and the lust for fame. It’s hard to tell.

Sue (Allison Janney), desperate to be seen by someone — anyone — clings to a shell of a marriage and is practically a human bootprint, the way everyone steps on her. When her philandering husband dies in flagrante delicto, she hides the body and concocts a story to get some sweet, sweet attention. Why does she hide the body? I don’t know. Go with it. Fortunately, her sister Nancy (Mila Kunis) is a local, scoop-hungry TV reporter whom Sue can use to get her pantomime rolling. Among the characters played by seemingly endless familiar faces are actual bad guys whose schemes involving the husband are thwarted by his disappearance, and his brother, who is trying to go straight and start a family with his fiancée. There’s also a dogged cop who threatens to unravel the thinly assembled tapestry while voracious Sue pushes for a higher and higher media profile.

It’s a comedy, or so insists the music.

It’s also one of those casts where not knowing who’ll show up next is part of the fun, so you might skip the rest of this paragraph if you want to play along. Apart from Janney and Kunis are: Matthew Modine, Jimmi Simpson, Samira Wiley, Wanda Sykes, Ellen Barkin, Keong Sim, Clifton Collins Jr., Awkwafina, Juliette Lewis (the second Lewis sighting this week, as she also appears in “Music”) and Regina Hall.

Whew.

Unfortunately, even entirely watchable actors are wasted when character development isn’t on the film’s to-do list. People are moved around like game pieces; sometimes they die. It’s no fun when characters played by actors you enjoy seeing bite the dust, but it also doesn’t exactly break your heart.

It’s one of those post-“Pulp Fiction” ensemble crime frolics that fails to capture that classic’s uniqueness and spark. It feels forced, despite such a cast. Awkwafina probably acquits herself best among the celebrity masses, but it’s a bad sign when performers as gifted as Sykes or Hall or Janney (for instance) don’t emerge with memorable moments. Director Tate Taylor (“The Help”) has worked frequently with Janney, which explains how she was snared.

One wonders what might have been had Amanda Idoko’s script not been directed at such a pitch, with “Remember, this is funny” music cues doing too much work in seemingly every scene. It’s exhausting.

That it’s called “Breaking News” implies Sue’s television appearances are meant as commentary; what that comment might be escapes.

It’s hard to pinpoint any laugh-out-loud moments in the “comedy.” Yet when things turn graphically violent, we haven’t invested enough in the characters, nor are the proceedings captured expertly enough, for them to have discernible impact.

“Breaking News in Yuba County” lacks both the form and substance to cash in on its acting assets.

‘Breaking News in Yuba County’

Rated: R, for violence, sexual content, language and some nudity

Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes

Playing: Available on digital and in limited release where theaters are open