The funniest thing about New in Town is the title. Its fish-out-of-water story of Miami-based corporate executive Lucy Hill (Renée Zellweger) sent to small town Ulm, Minnesota, to downsize a snack-food plant is old as Zellweger’s clumsy female Bridget Jones formula—and old as Hollywood’s hills. Yawn-inducing déjà vu descends upon scenes of Midwestern hicks with funny accents—stolen from Frances McDormand’s Marge Gunderson in Fargo. The darts that director Jonas Elmer and screenwriters Kenneth Rance and C. Jay Cox aim at Blue State/Red State differences have a weak thrust, just like the tired barbs against Zellweger’s Lucy stumbling in stiletto heels before falling in love with the beaver-toothed, scraggly bearded, hunky union rep (Harry Connick, Jr).
Zellweger doesn’t have the verve Diane Keaton brought to Baby Boom’s similar stuck-in-Podunk gimmick. And Lucy never conveys that girl-next-door bonding that is Sandra Bullock’s specialty. Is anything more tiresome than a miscast formula movie? Zellweger’s own specialty is fragile sensitivity, which has been best displayed in The Whole Wide World, Jerry Maguire and 2007’s remarkable, little seen Miss Potter: where she convincingly portrayed Beatrix Potter’s quiet artistry and yearning for human contact. New in Town coarsens those same qualities into knee-slappers of female and small-town humiliation almost as ugly as the crude holiday comedy Four Christmases.
Yet, it’s not just Lucy’s wriggling rump that sticks out among the plaid and calico yokels. New in Town’s commercial calculation is exposed by Lucy’s predictable emotional thaw. The real message isn’t about reviving the town’s economy or returning manufacturing (and a sense of responsibility) to corporate America. This plot blatantly appeases flyover markets by switching course and having Lucy learn kindliness from these good common folk. It is Lucy’s secretary, Siobhan Fallon Hogan’s open-faced, tapioca-making Blanche Gunderson (sister of Marge?), who speechifies the lesson: “We ice fish, scrapbook and drag Jesus into normal conversation.” Rarely has Hollywood populism been so transparent.
New in Town
Directed by Jonas Elmer
Running Time: 96 min.
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