I think it’s safe to say that most of us have had days where it seemed like nothing seemed to go right. The car ran out of gas; a coworker received a promotion instead of you; a stain appeared on your outfit that couldn’t be easily disguised; and many more situations that have already come to your mind.
In the case of Sue Buttons (Allison Janney), her life seems to consist of nothing good. At the beginning of Tate Taylor’s Breaking News in Yuba County, she picks up a birthday cake for herself while muttering affirmations to herself (“I am good”; “I am special”). The cake is misspelled and she is unable to do anything about it. She drives to her job at a call center and her first call is demeaning. She thinks her workplace remembered her birthday, but their celebration was for another person. These are only the beginning of her issues thanks to a completely dysfunctional family and a latent desire to be known and respected.
In theory, this sounds like a fantastic premise for a film. Add in an extremely talented group of Hollywood actors (Wanda Sykes; Juliette Lewis; Ellen Barkin; and Dominic Burgess among others) and actresses and you’ve got a verifiable winner. The problem is that Breaking News in Yuba County starts off wonderfully before devolving into a muddled mess that leaves more questions than answers. How did it go so wrong?
The problems begin as soon as Sue gets home. Her husband Carl (Matthew Modine, who gets woefully little screen time) is caught up in a bad situation involving millions of dollars and a tryst in a seedy hotel. Thinking the flowers he purchased were for her, Sue follows him and discovers more than she bargained for. Catching him in the middle of an affair was bad enough, but watching him fall over dead was worse. Suddenly, the film takes on a dark Weekend at Bernie’s feel except she buries Carl and the money in the hotel playground.
This triggers a flood of cops, confusion, and a trio of Mafia-ish characters (including Awkwafina) that are geared up to inflict damage in cruel ways. There’s more, but I’ll focus on Sue’s attempt to increase her popularity as a result of a missing person case not unlike those Nancy Grace episodes on CNN. Her sister Nancy (Mila Kunis) is a local reporter and gets the word out that Sue’s husband is “missing,” but Sue wants to go higher and piggybacks on a national missing person case. At this point, the plot completely unravels and becomes a gore-fest – both in its ending and in a number of grisly deaths that would’ve made the director of Saw proud. Will Sue be able to finally affirm herself? You’ll find out if you can make it to the Crash-like ending.
It is important to recognize that a common thread throughout Breaking News in Yuba County involves Sue’s constant attempts to affirm herself. She starts off talking to herself in the grocery store and is heard recounting the same phrases as she goes from nobody to pseudo-star. It becomes a catalyst that transforms her into someone who is desperate to do anything to get seen in a popular light (at least in her eyes) by the public. The issue here is not the affirmations themselves, but where the words point her to. They give her ego a massive boost that, once triggered, is near impossible to get rid of. Conversely, as a Christian, I believe that our affirmations should come from the Bible and the words God tells us. He loves each of us with an everlasting love and has drawn us with lovingkindness (see Jeremiah 31:3). If that’s good, there’s a whole lot more of these God has to share. By finding our value and worth in Him, we won’t have to resort to being a part of a racket (knowingly or unknowingly) as Sue horrifyingly discovered. Instead, we can relate to One who sings songs over us (see Zephaniah 3:17)
Breaking News in Yuba County is available on VOD.