‘Breaking News in Yuba County’ is a black comedy directed by Tate Taylor. The film is a sarcastic take on the media’s growing influence in our lives and comments on its penchant for storytelling without necessarily following an ethical approach. The story takes inspiration from the Coen Brothers‘ oeuvre, known for a sardonic take on violence. ‘Breaking News in Yuba County’ has its fair share of violent moments but doesn’t position them overtly in the narrative. It is more of a result entailing from selfish acts of the film’s myriad characters. The motives, although, are driven by self-concern, which actually becomes a part of the social commentary of the film. The film’s narrative follows Sue Buttons and her journey to a moment of fame, which has some severe collateral damage. We were hooked to her schemes and decided to unravel the nuances of her choices. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Breaking News in Yuba County Plot Synopsis
Sue Buttons (Allison Janney) is a lonely middle-aged woman who craves affection. It is her birthday, and she goes to buy a cake for herself. Sue’s husband Karl leaves for work in the morning, and it seems that he has forgotten her birthday. In a desperate attempt to make her day better and spend some quality time with her husband, Sue reaches Karl’s office and follows him. To her dismay, Sue catches Karl having sex with another woman. Upon seeing her, Karl suffers a heart attack and collapses on the floor. Karl is dead, and Sue decides to bury his body along with his belongings.
Karl’s brother Petey works in a furniture shop and has apparently left his past life of crime. Nonetheless, his previous liaisons are dangerous criminal Mina (Awkwafina), who ask for Karl’s whereabouts. Karl actually helped the criminals to launder money into different accounts, and he is given $3 million to do the same. Unfortunately, his sudden death causes multiple problems as the criminals are now after the people who might know him to extract the money. Meanwhile, Sue is inspired by the stories covered by local news queen Gloria Michaels and decides to frame a missing husband’s case to gather limelight. Sue’s half-sister Nancy (Mila Kunis) is also looking for a scoop and decides to cover Sue’s story.
The newfound fame vitalizes Sue, and she seems to bask in the attention. Detective Harris (Regina Hall) from the local police station is in the mix as she investigates Karl’s disappearance. As the potpourri of multiple characters come to foray, we see that everyone has their own selfish interests that somehow relate to Karl’s supposed abduction. The film ends with a violent act that explicates the futility of all the deceits and lies.
Breaking News in Yuba County Ending: Is the Truth Finally Revealed?
Detective Harris’s persistence in the investigation takes her closer to the truth. She has reasons to believe that Sue is hiding the truth as there are many disjunctions in her narrative. Also, Mina is looking for her father’s money, which is supposed to be with Karl. Petey feels that Mina has abducted Karl because of his own checkered past. Mina plays along, sensing an opportunity to make some quick money. On the other hand, Nancy records the conversation between Sue and Karl’s mistress, which leads her to inquire about the truth.
Mina is kidnapped by Petey’s boss, Rita, who is his partner in crime. Mina’s accomplice tracks her down and kills Rita in cold blood. Mina’s abduction enrages his father, the crime boss Mr. Kim. He threatens Sue of dire consequences, and she agrees to take her to the place where she had buried Karl. In a situation contrived in the lines of black comedy, detective Harris is also present there. Throughout the film, detective Harris seems to be the only one who inches closer to the truth.
We feel that she might turn out to be the savior and uncover the truth. As fate would have it, a shootout ensues between Kim, Harris, and her junior officer, which results in their death. Despite reaching a dead-end, Sue is saved by the situation, and we assume that she takes the money for herself. Her love for attention isn’t over, as a year after, she appears in an interview with Gloria promoting her new book. We can assume that the truth remains buried in the ground with Karl. Sue actually relives the lines that she has been telling her since the beginning, “I am confident. I am enough. I am strong.”
The Role of Media
The media plays an important role in driving the narrative of the film. Gloria Daniels, the celebrated news anchor, covers the story of a missing child, which inspires Sue to bring her case to the light. Her attempt for easy fame is accentuated by Nancy, who is looking for cover news herself. Nancy, though has a change of character by the end. In a particular scene, Sue reminisces about their childhood when she says that Nancy used to hold her hand while walking to school, and one day, when her friend criticized Sue, Nancy withdrew from her defense, stating that she is her half-sister. Perhaps the retelling of this incident induces a change of heart in Nancy as she tries to help Sue moving beyond her own motives. Moreover, when detective Harris apprehends Sue for questioning, Nancy’s clever ruse helps Sue escape incarceration.
‘Breaking News in Yuba County’ has some elements of the comedy of errors, which has been previously narrativized for the silver screen. What makes it different is its critique of media and its unethical ways. Despite its manipulations, the media wields influential power over a wide range, which is evident from the change of attitude of Sue’s colleagues towards her. Sue’s choices stem from her longing to be appreciated, which she cleverly initiates by publicizing her plight, which hits the right spot of the community. We can perhaps oversee the film’s deadpan humor and relate to Gus Van Sant’s ‘To Die For’ which deals with the dangerous repercussion of media-induced fame.