Breaking News in Yuba County
Tate Taylor continues down a path of disappointing projects
Tate Taylor is a director whose trajectory has curiously gone in an inverted way. He started off with splashy prestige Hollywood fare such as The Help (2011), or the more melodramatic The Girl on the Train (2016) and has since devolved into confused and trashy films. Ironically Taylor has gotten more prolific over the years, having seven projects in development and releasing four projects (three films and a series) in the last three years. His latest film has come out
only five months after his previous.
Breaking News from Yuba County (2021) follows the suburban woman Sue Buttons (Allison Janney), who sees as the people around her shun and ignore her. Her husband Karl (Matthew Modine) might be having an affair and her sister Nancy (Mila Kunis) is such a workaholic she forgets her birthday. Sue attempts to cling towards a dignity and sanity through daytime television and self-help tapes. However, when Karl mysteriously disappears, Sue decides to use this to her advantage, manipulating her emotional state in order to bring media attention to her plight, and thus gain the notice she had been craving.
Breaking News from Yuba County is written by relative newcomer Amanda Idoko. This is her first produced feature film script, and the rawness of the writing comes off the screen a little too blatantly. There is clearly a lot of ambition in the story, trying to meld a commentary on media and celebrity culture, with a mystery-gangster flick, and infusing the entire thing with dark humor. Breaking News from Yuba County is fatally overstuffed. There is an infinite amount of subplots and side-characters, which pull the focus away from the central storyline and dilute the themes that Idoko and Taylor were aiming at. What breaks the film most, however, is the failure of the comedic elements. A mixture of bad writing and poor execution cause many supposed comedic scenes to fall into an uncomfortable area; I was horrified rather than humored seeing a pregnant woman continuously stab a man in the chest while screaming “I’m having twins!” The actors are playing these moments completely straight, causing a disturbing contrast to occur with how the scene might have been intended. Taylor’s direction also doesn’t prepare audiences to see certain scenes as a joke, as he employs noir lighting and movement that the sprightly music can’t quite dissipate.
With such a jumbled plot and miscalculated direction, I was surprised by the stellar cast that came aboard. Janney perfectly plays with Sue’s manipulation and improvisation, she seems to be one of the few performers finding the right tone for her delivery. Regina Hall, as a suspicious police detective, is the only other performer, who is able to break from the bounds of the poor material and shine through. Hall is an actress that has continuously paid her dues and done impressive work, and yet has largely been ignored by the larger Hollywood. I hope that her continuing persistence will finally get her worthy material to work with. The rest of the cast is rounded by disparate talents that range from Samira Wiley and Awkwafina, to Ellen Barkin and Juliette Lewis. Taylor is incapable of pulling out any meaningful material from these great actresses, relegating them to roles that feel like mere cameos, that pad an already short running time of 96 minutes.
Breaking News from Yuba County is the third straight disappointment from Taylor (after Ma (2019), and Ava (2020)). Taylor worked with a barely pruned and sharpened script, which threw the entire story and potential intentions down the gutter, substituting them with cringey moments and a dull narrative. No matter how much star power puts in the work, in the end as the quote goes, “you can make a bad film out of a good script, but you can’t make a good film out of a bad script.”