Journalistic integrity is a serious issue. Fact-checking is a customary expectation for quality control; but in the fast-paced world of social media, organizations and editors may feel they don’t always have the time to obtain confirmation without losing ground to a competitor on breaking news. However instances of outright lies are considered the worst offense, both within the industry and by media consumers. In Big News from Grand Rock, a reporter manufactures attention-grabbing headlines in an attempt to save his small town’s publication.
Leonard (Ennis Esmer) is the editor-in-chief of The Weekly Ledger, Grand Rock’s local newspaper. His three staff reporters are relatively incompetent: Barbara (Tammy Isbell) doesn’t want to follow any leads that require her to leave the office; Bill (Peter Keleghan) is enthusiastic but has no idea what constitutes a news story; and Amanda (Kristin Booth) is very soft spoken and lacks confidence in everything. With declining readership and fewer advertisers, its publisher (Gordon Pinsent) is left with no choice but to consider selling the publication. Sitting at home trying to devise a plan to save the newspaper, Leonard is suddenly inspired by a television broadcast of Larger than Life, the tale of a man who inherits an elephant. The next edition’s headline is “Baby Elephant Drive.” Collaborating with the video store clerk (Aaron Ashmore), Leonard continues to steal cover ideas from movies — until an article about a conspiracy theory garners more attention than anticipated and points to a potentially real scheme.
Getting away with such blatant falsities is virtually impossible in the current state of connectivity. Lucy, (Meredith MacNeill), the reporter sent to investigate Leonard’s exposé could have easily debunked it from her own desk without ever stepping foot in Grand Rock. But that’s why the movie is set at some point in the recent past, when rotary phones, tube TVs and some form of the Internet co-exist. The script also relies on the stereotypical small town naiveté that allows everyone to take these captivating front page stories at face value.
The fact that Leonard had the best of intentions — hoping to save the paper while filling the town’s desire for interesting news — keeps the narrative light. His attempts to evade Lucy’s probing questions are almost cute as he poorly invents names and meeting spots for his confidential informant. The low key comedy plays to everyone’s strengths by not being over-the-top but rather relying on quirky characters and a competent script to deliver the laughs. It’s not exactly a searing condemnation of bad journalism, but it illustrates the consequences of betraying the public trust.
The eventual realization that Leonard could have stumbled upon a real conspiracy is not wholly unpredictable. Walter (Art Hindle), the town grumbler, repeatedly pops up to complain about unfixed potholes, which points to the possibility of a larger issue. Even the characters at the centre of the plot are unsurprising, but their discovery of the plan itself is fittingly bizarre.
The cast consists of a sampling of who’s-who in Canadian cinema with many familiar faces taking the screen in roles of varying size. Hindle and Pinsent have achieved the highest accolades in Hollywood North, while Ashmore, Booth, Esmer, Keleghan and others have been acquainting themselves with viewers through various Canadian productions for years. Everyone involved has a great sense of comedy timing and grasp of the subtlety this picture required by writer/director Daniel Perlmutter’s feature debut.