The Good Life Is Elusive in Dark Comedy ‘Breaking News in Yuba County’

Suburban life is not all it’s cracked up to be in the dark comedy “Breaking News in Yuba County.” Allison Janney leads an all-star ensemble in this feature that satirizes the media, organized crime, and new age culture. While there are plenty of amusing performances and moments to be found here, director Tate Taylor and writer Amanda Idoko rely too heavily on the clichés found in films about crime and small-town idiots in over their heads.

When we first meet Sue Buttons (Janney), she’s looking forward to her birthday, but to her disappointment, neither her husband Carl (Matthew Modine) nor her half-sister Nancy (Mila Kunis) seem to remember. While Sue works a thankless job answering phones at a suicide hotline, her sister is absorbed in her broadcast journalism career, and Carl, a banker, is too preoccupied with his mistress, Leah (Bridget Everett), to pay his poor wife any attention. Barely holding on to her sanity, Sue tries to find comfort in doing self-care things like saying daily affirmations, but nothing prepares her for one when she follows Carl to a motel and walks in on him having sex with Leah. But Carl is even less prepared, and he proceeds to have a heart attack and drop dead in front of both women.

Inspired by the relentless coverage of Emma Rose, a 13-year-old white girl who has gone missing, Sue decides to bury Carl herself and seek attention by claiming he was abducted. With him, she buries his duffle bag, not knowing that it contains three million dollars of money he had intended to launder. Almost everyone has an agenda here, and while there are moments where we see Nancy show real compassion and concern for her kooky sister, her career is her first priority, which makes it all the more hard for her when Sue feeds her fabricated story to Gloria Michaels (Juliette Lewis), a Nancy Grace-esque reporter who oozes bullshit. Meanwhile, Harris (Regina Hall), a tough detective with something to prove, is determined to find out what really happened to Carl.

This may sound like a lot already, but there is another subplot involving Carl’s bumbling brother and associate Petey (Jimmi Simpson) getting in trouble with mobster-bowling alley owner Mr. Kim (Keong Sim). Mr. Kim doesn’t like to be bothered with the everyday, trivial part of mob life, so he sends his daughter, Mina (Awkwafina), and her henchman partner, Raj (Clifton Collins Jr.), to do the heavy lifting. In a gender flipped version of a tired mob film trope, Mina is determined to prove to her father that she’s not weak.

Other characters include Rita (Wanda Sykes), Petey’s boss at his retail job who wants a piece of the pie when it comes to his criminal activity, Debbie (Ellen Barkin), Rita’s devoted partner, and Jonelle (Samira Wiley playing against type), Petey’s pregnant partner who wants him on the straight and narrow. 

For a film with so many characters, there’s so few that we care about. All the main players are annoying and/or self-serving, with the exceptions being Harris and Jonelle. The latter has precious little screen time, so that leaves Harris. The funniest moments in the film involve Hall, especially when she’s expressing her disgust with Sue and other weak-minded people, and she gives her all until the end. Janney also fully commits, but this is definitely not going to go down in history as one of the Oscar winners most memorable roles. 

Breaking News in Yuba County” releases Feb. 12 on VOD and in select cities.