By the time we join Breaking News in Yuba County’s Sue Buttons (Allison Janney), she’s having a pretty rough day. It’s her birthday, her coworkers forgot, the cake she was forced to buy herself reads “Happy Birthday Suc!” and her husband Karl (Matthew Modine), a banker, is on the phone with some mysterious woman who asks if he’s stroking his cock right now. He isn’t—not in that moment—but he’s still a scumbag. Sue feels overlooked, unappreciated, unimportant. Those feelings fester.
Elsewhere, Karl's brother Petey (Westworld's Jimmi Simpson) attempts to leave a life of crime behind following news that his live-in girlfriend (Samira Wiley) is pregnant with twins. The bored but funny business owner who hired him (Wanda Sykes) needles Petey about forming a crime partnership, while the mobbed-up Mina (Akwafina) pressures him to get Karl to launder money.
Still with us? OK. It's complicated, but director Tate Taylor (The Help) so masterfully and gradually sets up the powder keg that when the disparate storylines and characters clash together in a violent but hilarious ballet of misconceptions, misunderstandings and missed opportunities, it's almost perfect. Karl suddenly disappears, which thrusts Sue into the high-profile world of press conferences and local news appearances courtesy of some twee human interest reporter (Juliette Lewis) and Sue's own sister (Mila Kunis), a lesser journo.
Janney nails it as the put-upon wife finally getting some attention—even if it's bad attention. She knows what really happened to Karl, but isn't spilling so long as the camera crews keep turning up. Eventually, she starts to believe her own lies just as the peripheral madness topples in on all the central players.
From there, Yuba County starts to lose its momentum. Regina King sings as the dogged detective convinced Sue is hiding something, though her screen time is sadly limited. Ellen Barkin's in the mix, too, but barely—and, in the end, one wonders why Janney or Akwafina aren't in every single scene even if Simpson has often proved a capable and funny performer and doesn't disappoint here.
Still, the ending feels rushed and shoehorned with a lot of dark ideas that didn't quite fit elsewhere in the complex plot. From a relatively new writer like Amanda Idoko, though, Yuba County feels like a big breakthrough. Surely her next film's narrative will feel even more refined, and this one is so fun to watch, its shortcomings feel far less important than its many strengths.
+Funny; complicated in a good way
-Climax feels hasty
Breaking News in Yuba County
Directed by Taylor
With Janney, Akwafina, Simpson, Sykes and King
Amazon, R, 96 min.