Judge Patrick Bromley reviews a documentary that follows a group of mentally challenged kids on a unique road trip.
"Heeeey, how's your news? Would you like to sing a tuuuunnne? Would you like to chase your blues a…waaaaay?"—lyrics to How's Your News? theme song
I worked for several years in a high school Special Education classroom, which may help to explain why Shout! Factory's new release of the wonderful documentary How's Your News? is more than just a film to me—it's a trip down memory lane.
Nearly every member of the How's Your News? crew reminds me of a former student in one way or another. Take television-obsessed Ronnie Simonsen, for example, whose desire to talk only about Medical Center star Chad Everett could easily be swapped out for Isaac, the student I had who was interested only in talking about Michael Jackson. Or Robert Bird, who clearly likes to talk to people and has a lot to say but can't quite get the words out—that's Ed, a former student who was, just between us, my favorite kid in class. It's a testament to the folks behind How's Your News? that I felt not only like I got to know these people as well as those kids in class, but that I liked them just as much.
The film is a documentary that chronicles the cross-country road trip of a group of physically and mentally challenged individuals gathered together to form the How's Your News? team. That they really only conduct "man on the street"-style interviews, and aren't covering actual news stories, doesn't matter—it's actually what provides the film its underlying fascinating duality. As much as the movie is about its five reporters and their experiences on the road, it's also about the reactions of an unsuspecting public confronted with these reporters…and their disabilities. The reactions, as can be expected, range from genuine joviality and friendliness to moderate condescension to fear and avoidance; trite as it may sound, I more than once found myself thinking it was these "everyday people" that have the handicap.
This is an extremely delicate film; in the wrong hands, it could have gone terribly awry. It would have been either too crude, playing the film strictly for laughs, or it would have been overly sentimental and cloyingly inspirational. The magic of How's Your News? is in the attitude it takes towards its challenged subjects; which is to say, it doesn't take one. There's never a propensity towards sentimentality (unlike other dramatic films with the same subject matter, such as i am sam, or Garry Marshall's detestable The Other Sister) or pity of any kind, and why should there be? The film simply wants to present these five men and women (actually four men and one woman) exactly as they are and to document the new experiences they're having. And while there are plenty of laughs to be found, they're never at the expense of the film's subjects. Come to think of it, How's Your News? probably wouldn't have existed in the wrong hands—it's obviously too much a labor of love for all the folks involved.
How's Your News? comes to us courtesy of Shout! Factory; this release, coupled with their incredible releases of Freaks and Geeks and SCTV earlier this year, has quickly made them one of my favorite studios putting out DVDs. Not only have they seen to it that this charming film receives distribution (and hopefully gains a wider audience), but they've loaded it with some fantastic extras as well. Some of the extras include the original pilot (which provided the basis for the full-length film), a photo gallery, an interview with executive producers Trey Parker and Matt Stone (South Park), an episode of IFC's Split Screen covering How's Your News?, and an NPR interview with How's Your News? director Arthur Bradford and cast members/reporters Susan Harrington and Ron Simonsen (also the two vocalists behind the show's fantastic theme song, heard every weekday as Robin Quivers reads the news on The Howard Stern Show).
Each of the above is a welcome addition and will definitely increase or extend your enjoyment of the film, but that's not the really good stuff. That would be the audio commentary by the cast and director Arthur Bradford, which plays almost like an extension of the film itself. In some ways, it's even better—because it's moderated by Bradford (who gives a great deal of valuable information about the history and production of the film), the cast has someone and something to react to constantly. Another great extra found here is a collection of home video-style footage from various film festivals where How's Your News? was shown, coupled with short concert segments that followed in which cast members perform songs about the cities they've visited. Their good time is utterly infectious.
My hands-down favorite extra on the disc, though, is the months-later and long awaited meeting between Ronnie Simonsen and his longtime idol / "spiritual brother," Chad Everett. Like the film that precedes it, the scene is alternately touching and hilarious without ever trying to be either; Ronnie's reaction when he first sees Everett is worth the price of the disc alone.
Reflecting on How's Your News?, I keep coming back to the same thought. When I used to tell people what I did for a living, their response was nearly always the same: "I really respect you for that." Well that's great and all, but I sometimes resented the unspoken implication that it was work that no one else would want to do, so I should be respected for doing it. Why wouldn't other people want to do it? The kids are impossible not to like. It's the same way I feel about How's Your News?. It's impossible not to like.
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