A modest comedy about a small town that can only get by on its modest charms.
Big News From Grand Rock
Small towns can be an easy target for comedy. There’s something inherently funny about a place that finds excitement in the banal and mundane, and it only takes less than a minute before Big News from Grand Rock pokes fun at its tiny town setting. A fake tourism ad for the titular city paints Grand Rock as the sort of place people from big cities think of when they envision a small town, with the TV spot praising Grand Rock’s “ample public parking” and restaurants serving “breakfast, lunch and dinner!” It won’t be the only time writer/director Daniel Perlmutter pulls out those kinds of jokes.
The tourism ad mentions Grand Rock’s newspaper The Weekly Ledger, which happens to be coming up on its 90th anniversary. Leonard (Ennis Esmer), the paper’s editor, has the seemingly impossible task of finding interesting stories every week. It doesn’t help that his staff of reporters can barely function; Barbara (Tammy Isbell) only cares about doing the bare minimum of work, Bill (Peter Keleghan) thinks someone buying a lottery ticket constitutes a story, and Amanda (Kristin Booth) appears to be moments away from a nervous breakdown at all times. Worse news for Leonard comes when the paper’s owner (Gordon Pinsent, contractually obligated to star in 90% of all Canadian films) starts looking into selling the Ledger.
Perlmutter’s set-up is definitely familiar, with broadly defined characters and jokes playing up Grand Rock’s lack of excitement (one of the town’s big weekly stories: weird-looking squash on a farm), but things take a turn once Leonard gets an idea to improve the paper’s readership. After watching Larger Than Life on TV one night (yes, that movie) he turns the movie’s plot into a front page article. The story’s a hit with the town, and Leonard gets away with tricking people into believing his made up story is true. With the help of the town’s video store clerk (Aaron Ashmore), Leonard starts turning movies like Easy Money and Overboard into stories Grand Rock citizens can’t stop eating up.
Of course, Leonard’s ruse can’t last forever, and when he spins Extreme Measures into a story about secret experimental surgeries going on in town, it attracts the attention of outside reporters. Enter Lucy (Meredith MacNeill), a writer for the “big city” paper who offers to work with Leonard on expanding his story into a bigger article. Thankfully, Perlmutter doesn’t spend a lot of time on Leonard trying to cover up his lies; he’s a small-town reporter in over his head, and it takes less than a minute before Lucy sees right through him.
But once Leonard comes clean about his stories, Perlmutter loses the plot of his own film. What starts out as a cutesy, journalistic version of Be Kind Rewind suddenly turns into a forced redemption tale. After Lucy exposes Leonard to the town, she discovers that one of Leonard’s fake stories might actually have some basis in reality. Leonard really doesn’t do anything to show he deserves redemption. He’s still the same bumbling, well-intentioned reporter from start to end, and aside from some stern words by Lucy and his boss, his transgression barely has any serious consequences. Even worse is the way Perlmutter forces Lucy on Leonard as a love interest, a baffling choice considering MacNeill and Esmer have zero chemistry. It’s a development that literally comes out of nowhere.
Putting those issues aside, Big News from Grand Rock really isn’t that bad of a film. Yes, the small town jokes are certainly obvious, but the cast’s energy (Isbell and Keleghan are standouts) make a lot of the jokes work. In the end, Big News from Grand Rock is a very modest film, one that can only get by on its modest charms. In the town’s ad at the beginning, the announcer describes Grand Rock as “A place to go,” a kind of half-hearted endorsement that can also apply to the film. Big News from Grand Rock: It’s a film to see.