How’s Your News? (1999) — A touching look at disabled reporters on the road

“I have a feeling this is gonna be one of the most interesting rides I’ve ever been on.”

Clare’s rating: I’ve been waiting for How’s Your News? to be released on DVD for about five years. So to say I’m a little excited to finally own my own copy is a bit of an understatement.

Clare’s review: The first time I saw How’s Your News? was a number of years ago when I stumbled across it on one HBO or Cinemax randomly. I was surprised by it, quickly came to really love it and have basically been waiting ever so patiently since that time for it to be released on DVD. It’s taken a while, but the extras included in the DVD packaging were well worth the wait.

But let me go back to the beginning…

How’s Your News? is a documentary about a group of people with a variety of mental and physical disabilities who travel across the country in a painted RV and, along the way, do man-on-the-street interviews with unsuspecting subjects they come across.

The group all met at a camp in Massachusetts, and the movie is basically a long form version of a project they’d do every summer for the camp that included campers going out into the surrounding area and interviewing people they came across there. Matt Stone and Trey Parker got a copy of one of those tapes and loved it so much they decided that they wanted to finance a trip across the country for the news team and their assistants and produce a documentary of their travels.

I think a lot of people hear about the film and then hear who produced it and usually work under the uncomfortable assumption that the movie is designed to make fun of people with mental and physical disabilities. It became clear to me after about two minutes of watching the movie that it’s actually one of the most humanizing looks at people with disabilities that I’ve ever seen. Certainly if you hold it up against the Hollywood portrayals of the same kinds of disabilities, the stark contrast becomes almost unbearably embarrassing.

How’s Your News? is comprised of a team of five reporters all of whom have distinct interviewing styles and bring their own unique perspectives to the process.

Susan Harrington is an extremely outgoing woman who can talk up a storm and is very professional behind the microphone. She’s also fearless and will talk to basically anyone she can find. She loves to sing and is a major player in the numerous songs that the How’s Your News? team puts together for every new city they visit. My favorite Susan moment in the movie is when, in a karaoke booth in Las Vegas, she belts out the most kick-ass version of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” I’ve ever heard.

Ronnie Simonson is a huge, loving, very animated guy who absolutely adores ’70s TV icon Chad Everett and relates the majority of his questions (and the majority of all his other interactions with people) back to his vast knowledge of soap operas and a variety of beloved television actors he has an extensive mental catalogue of. Like Susan, he loves to sing and also does really humorous impressions of famous people. My favorite Ronnie moment comes when he interviews a construction worker and asks him what his hobbies are. When the man says that he likes to ride motorcycles, Ronnie asks him if he rides motorcycles to feel cool, like Fonzie.

Sean Costello is a young man with Down Syndrome who is absolutely forthright with everyone he speaks to. My favorite thing about his interview style is that he’ll ask a question, get an answer, take a minute to think over what he’s heard and if he’s satisfied, the interview is over. In the extra section they’ve included one of the original camp videos that How’s Your News? did and all of Sean’s question lead directly back to whether or not the person he’s speaking to likes fried chicken. It’s really interesting to watch different people interact with Sean because Sean interacts with everyone he meets exactly the same way and it’s wonderful.

Robert Bird, like Sean, has Down Syndrome but is considerably older and has never formed the capacity to speak comprehendible English. He definitely talks and there are times when a word or two will be made clear, but for the most part what he says sounds like total gibberish. He’s aware of what’s going on around him and is definitely as involved in interviewing people as all the other members on the team, it’s just that nobody can understand what he’s asking them about.

The fascinating thing about Robert’s interviews is seeing how certain people respond to being spoken to but not understanding what’s been said. Some will act as though they really do understand and will answer accordingly, while others will try to work with Robert to get him to repeat his questions and really try hard to understand, while still others will simply shrug their shoulders and walk away.

Larry Perry is extremely physically handicapped and has a very hard time expressing himself verbally. Occasionally he can get a word or two out, but it’s clearly very difficult for him. There is, however, absolutely no mistaking when Larry is happy about something. Some of the more simple moments of the film belong to Larry and many of them are my personal favorites. For example, there’s one scene where Larry is out of his wheelchair, rolling himself down a hill on a gorgeous summer day. His body is very hard to control, but while he’s rolling, he seems perfectly at ease inside his own skin and thoroughly enjoying such a simple pleasure. When the team finally reaches the California coast, Larry is set up on the board walk of Venice Beach with a microphone and a sign that says “free interviews” and “My name is Larry”. A number of people stop and say hello, interact with him and tell them about their lives. One woman and her boyfriend dance with him.

How’s Your News? makes me laugh loudly every time I watch it. It also makes me cry a lot, but only from sheer joy. They’re tears for the fact that these people, who are overlooked or ignored by most of society, are so clearly having more fun than most “normal” people do. They’re not jaded and they’re not afraid of anyone, so they’re freed up to go out into the world, without making any apologies to anyone about who they are or what they’re doing, and really just grab life in big handfuls. It’s inspiring. But more than that, it’s beautiful to watch.

I can’t recommend this movie enough.

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