New in Town is a romantic comedy in the mould of every other romantic comedy made since Harry met Sally all those years ago. The genre is so familiar that saying upfront that Renee and Harry end up in a clinched embrace as the credits roll isn’t a spoiler, it’s a given. The trick with these kinds of movies is to make the journey, how the unlikely couple gets together, different and interesting.
Renée Zellweger is Lucy Hill, a Miami based business consultant sent to oversee the restructuring of a manufacturing plant in the snowy Minnesota town of New Ulm. She’s a fish out of water that’s never seen snow up close and personal and thinks that you light a fireplace with a switch on the wall. “I’m stranded in this frozen wasteland,” she says. She looks down on the townsfolk and their quaint Fargo-esque accents and is determined to do her job and “not get personally attached to this town or anybody in it.” Her icy attitude begins to melt as she warms up to Ted Mitchell (Harry Connick Jr.) a handsome local man. Then when she’s ordered to close down the plant and put the entire community out of work, she’s forced to re-evaluate her big-city values.
To freshen things up the screenwriters have set the action in Minnesota, perhaps the least sexy of all 50 states. Any list of dream rom com locations begins with New York, is rounded out by Paris with London coming in a close third. The good state of Minnesota is unlikely to make the cut, and unfortunately New In Town won’t do much to change that state of affairs.
Actually shot in Manitoba, the film is placed against a backdrop of snow and ice, only occasionally finding a modicum of warmth as the relationship between Renee and Harry heats up, and even then its predictability is likely to leave you as cold as the setting.
The location isn’t the movie’s only problem. Early on it’s clear that there aren’t any characters here, just clichés. The people of New Ulm are the kind of stereotypical small town folks that only exist on the big screen. They’re unsophisticated gullible rubes, too nice for their own good and prone to colorful phrases like “Oh for cryin’ in a beer cheese soup.” (I don’t know what it means either….)
Zellweger is a cold blooded shark in Manolo Blahniks, a stuck up city snob straight from Central Casting. Connick isn’t required to much more than smile and look rugged in his plaid shirts. At least he pulls off the smile.
Most shocking is J.K. Simmons as plant foreman Stu Kopenhafer. Simmons is a great character actor who was the best and funniest thing in Burn After Reading, the most recent Coen Brothers film, but this is the most blatant “for the paycheck role” of the year so far.
Couple clichéd characters with predictable situations and you have New In Town, a forgettable movie that will raise the occasional laugh from generous audiences, but is probably best regarded as a rental.