Friday, February 27, 2015

Big News from Grand Rock: Journalism Up North

Leonard Crane is like the Jayson Blair of provincial Canada, except he meant well. Desperate to keep his small town newspaper in business, Crane starts cribbing human interest stories from the movies. Unfortunately, things get a little out of hand when he raises the stakes with an expose. There might just be a big story out there in Daniel Perlmutter’s Big News from Grand Rock (trailer here), which opens today in Canada.

You can pretty much tell from the staff meeting why readership is woefully down at the Weekly Ledger when the deep voiced Ted Baxter-ish Bill pitches a story about a local woman who bought a lottery ticket. No, it hasn’t won—yet. It is a pretty sleepy hamlet, so it might be a pleasant place to live (aside from the potholes), but it sure is hard to drum up news copy. When the longtime owner announces his intention to sell, Crane does his best to woo back advertisers. Out of desperation, he rewrites the Bill Murray elephant movie Larger than Life as local interest story. It is a safe film to start with, because who would admit to watching it?

The keep the flow of reader-friendly stories coming, Crane seeks out recommendations from a willingly complicit video store clerk. However, when he pushes Barbet Schroeder’s medical thriller Desperate Measures on Crane, the resulting expose proves too sensational, attracting a reporter from a relatively big city to confirm his allegations of secret cloning experiments conducted by a shadowy cult. Yet, just when he faces exposure and ostracism as a fraud, mysterious events start to suggest he might have accidentally stumbled onto something after all.

Big News is a low key comedy, but the humor is considerable and admirably consistent. There are a lot of very clever lines, but the way Perlmutter and his leads master the rhythm of their dialogue for laughs is particularly effective. For some of their exchanges, you can almost imagine Perlmutter was drilling them with a stopwatch, Howard Hawks-style.

As Crane, Ennis Esmer deftly walks a comedic tightrope, often serving as a straight man during most of his scenes, but then perfectly delivering the understated kicker that pays off all the set-up. Aaron Ashmore and Peter Keleghan are terrific wild cards playing off Esmer as his video co-conspirator and the clueless reporter (to use the job title generously). The awkward chemistry between him and Meredith MacNeill as out of town journalist also works quite effectively in the context of the film.

Granted, Perlmutter started with a promising premise, but the intangibles of the well-turned phrases and the natural, unforced feel of the riffing really distinguishes it from the field. Frankly, Big News from Grand Rock is too good not to find some sort of distribution here in America, but if you happen to be in Toronto, by all means, drop by the Carlton Cinema, where it opens today (2/27).