New in Town

Movie Information

The Story: A career woman goes to a small town in Minnesota to downsize a dairy-products plant. The Lowdown: A flat, unfunny romantic comedy that makes fun of "traditional values" only to turn around and endorse them in the end.
Genre: Sub-Zero Romantic Comedy
Director: Jonas Elmer (Nynne)
Starring: Renée Zellweger, Harry Connick Jr., Siobhan Fallon Hogan, J.K. Simmons, Frances Conroy
Rated: PG

Before I sat through Jonas Elmer’s New in Town on Sunday afternoon, I’d have said that putting J.K. Simmons and a T. Rex song in a movie could only help. Now I know better. Neither the usually reliable Mr. Simmons, nor Marc Bolan’s “20th Century Boy” do a blessed thing to help thaw this icebound exercise in romantic comedy at its most primitive. You’ve seen everything offered here before. You’ve seen it done better, too.

The story’s that old wheeze about the tough-minded career gal (65 years ago Rosalind Russell would have been handed the assignment) from the big city who gets sent to make changes at a dinky manufacturing plant in the sticks that’s been taken over by a large corporation. The natives are strange creatures for her—and us—to gawk at, make fun of and feel superior to for two-thirds of the movie. Then she—and we—see the error of our ways, realize that these are the real people who’ve “got it right.” Of course, it doesn’t hurt matters any that our tough-minded career gal finds romance in the form of a champion-of-the-little-man union boss (65 years ago Fred MacMurray would have done just fine).

In the case of New in Town, we get Renée Zellweger as Lucy Hill, the corporate-ladder-climbing heel in need of some life lessons, and Harry Connick Jr. as Ted Mitchell, the “just folks” union man. (Yes, they “meet cute” in one of those loathe-at-first-sight encounters.) Lucy’s been sent to downsize some dairy-product plant in New Ulm, Minn., where all the locals—especially Blanche Gunderson (Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Baby Mama)—talk like they’ve seen Fargo about 1,500 times too many and say all sorts of unmemorable quaint things. (J.K. Simmons has one line about the digestive workings of a Swede that’s not bad.) Since Lucy is from Miami, this means we not only get every “big city girl versus the rubes” joke known to man, but a dozen or more “Southerner in the frozen north” gags thrown in for good measure. It’s grim stuff indeed.

The worst of this hoary rubbish is that it’s the kind of insulting nonsense that could only come from a Hollywood mind-set that tends to think anyone and everything that isn’t in L.A. or Manhattan is quaint and strange. Never mind that this particular example was directed by an imported Danish director (presumably hired because his little-seen Nynne was likened to Bridget Jones’s Diary by a Variety reviewer), and that one of its writers, Kenneth Rance, actually is from Minnesota. (His cowriter, on the other hand, C. Jay Cox, is responsible for Sweet Home Alabama.)

It’s not so much that the “colorful” characters are strange and quaint, but more that they’re all interchangeably strange and quaint. There’s apparently no one in New Ulm who isn’t into scrapbooking, ice fishing, polkas and Christ. That most of them come across as simpleminded to an alarming degree is even worse. That they’re ultimately viewed as better than the godless city folks still rings hollow—making the film the cinematic equivalent of telling someone online what you think of them and following it up with a little winky face to show you were only fooling.

The clichés are thicker than the ice on the frozen lakes, and the writing is transparent beyond belief. Anyone who’s seen more than 10 films knows full well that any movie that drags in references to Blanche’s famous tapioca six or seven times in the early scenes is setting something up for later in terms of the plot—not to mention a badly choreographed tapioca fight that leaves the participants looking like they just wandered in from a specialized kind of Web site. In the midst of this, we have drunk gags, outdoor-bathroom gags, freezing gags, buckshot-in-the-butt gags, the usual crop of misunderstandings and more freezing gags. It’s supposed to slide by on the goodwill generated by our fondness for Zellweger and Connick Jr. My fondness wore thin somewhere around the 20-minute mark. Rated PG for language and some suggestive material.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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4 thoughts on “New in Town

  1. luluthebeast

    Send them all here to Door County. I’ll take them to one of our “all you can eat” Lutefisk and Swedish Meatball dinners at the local Lutheran Church and then send them to one of our ice fishing camps where the ice flow tends to break off and float away. That should fix them!

  2. Ken Hanke

    Ice floes! They didn’t think of ice floes in the movie. The prospect of Renee Zellweger adrift on an ice floe as Harry Connick Jr. races to save her before she goes over the falls — a la Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess in Way Down East — would have been potential comedic gold, especially if he’d been too late.

  3. Tonberry

    I am shocked that this movie received a star and a half, I was reading in the Take 5 and it was rated an “F”, the first time I’ve seen a movie get that grade from that paper.

    However I rarely ever agree with the rating system of Take 5, it just quickly amuses me to see their take (no pun intended) on movies. I highly respect yours over anyone else. So maybe this movie isn’t quite that bad…

    Not that I have an urge to even see “New in Town,” I felt like I already did when I saw the trailer.

  4. Ken Hanke

    I am shocked that this movie received a star and a half, I was reading in the Take 5 and it was rated an “F”, the first time I’ve seen a movie get that grade from that paper.

    You have to understand how the Take 5 works in this regard. Being a corporate paper, they’re required to have a review (if they’re going to have one) up by the time the movie comes out. Since Asheville isn’t a big city, the only way they can do this is to pick a review from some affiliated paper or a wire service the paper has an agreement with. The choices are very finite. In the case of this film, the earlier reviews were so brutal, there was almost no way they could have found anything much more than an “F.”

    So maybe this movie isn’t quite that bad…

    It’s pretty bad.

    I felt like I already did when I saw the trailer.

    Essentially, you did.

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