New in Town is packed with a lot of bad, wrong-headed moves including small-town stereotypes, predictability, conventionality, and in one bizarre scene, hard nipples. Despite a talented and likable cast with wonderful character actors like J.K. Simmons and Frances Conroy, this romantic comedy was probably doomed from the start due to a script that can't decide if it wants to be Fargo, Norma Ray, or Working Girl.
That said, there is something in this movie that no script can write in and that's some honest-to-goodness chemistry between the two leads. Maybe I'm a sucker for Harry Connick Jr., maybe it's rare to witness some genuine onscreen sparks, or maybe I've been suffering too long from generic rom-com fatigue. Whatever the reason, I couldn't help but get a moderate case of the warm fuzzies after watching it.
To see some more of my thoughts on New in Town,
Renée Zellweger plays Lucy Hill, a tough Miami executive at some kind of food-making corporation who storms around in sky-high heels as if they were running shoes. We see Lucy at a meeting full of suits and jogging on the shore, but beyond that we don't really get any more insight into her character, which is one of the problems with this script. It makes it difficult later on to sympathize with her or even to understand why she does some of the things she does when she has to take over a processing plant located in the frozen tundra of New Ulm, Minnesota.
Lucy is sent to lay off a bunch of employees, but the longer she's in town the more she sees how devastating her actions would be to the people of New Ulm who have been so gosh darn nice to her. The plight of the town folks is given voice through the local union rep, Ted (Harry Connick Jr.), who has lots of initial contempt for the new lady in town and sees Lucy as a corporate stooge. Until, of course . . . he doesn't.
There are lots of tiresome homespun-isms by the sweet, down-to-earth townspeople, as well as much scrap-booking and tapioca-making, stuff like that. And at first Zellweger plays Lucy as a stiff "ice queen" (another extreme stereotype this movie can claim: that of the callous, powerful working woman). But once things heat up between her and Ted, she warms up and the performance takes on a more natural, playful tone. If fact, it's right in the middle that the characters emerge as more than caricatures and things get charming. Lucy is especially fun to root for midway through because she's smart and determined and also hilariously out of place on dates with Ted. The bottom line is that there is plenty to roll your eyes at, including an ending that's silly and syrupy, but I'll admit it: I laughed and I wanted these two opposite lovebirds to be together forever.
Photos courtesy of Lionsgate