– Summary –
Director : Jonas Elmer
Cast : Rene Zellweger, Harry Connick Jnr, JK Simmons, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Frances Conroy, Hilary Carroll, Barbara James Smith.
Length : 90 minutes of torture.
Synopsis: A hard-nosed businesswoman is sent to a rural backwater to close down the local factory, only to discover love and romance in the snowbound location. No songs by Harry Connick Jnr involved.
Review : Bleary, turgid, lazily scripted mush from Hollywood, almost everything about this film reeks of mindless filmmaking of the lowest common denominator, dressed up as quality filmmaking by featuring a relatively decent cast, this film is as far from romantic and comedy as you can get.
Meandering, soft-focus rom-com starring Rene Zellweger and Harry Connick Jnr, New In Town manages to trade in on localised kooky and far-flung hicksville fish-out-of-water story challenges without offering anything even remotely new to the genre. Zellweger stars as a businesswoman sent to a backwater town to close down an unprofitable factory which has just been purchased by a large corporation. The only problem is, Zellweger find herself befriending the locals of the town (who rely on the factory to keep their town alive) and so she’s conflicted as to whether to shut the factory down, or keep it open and ensure the survival of the town. And when she tries to play hardball with the local union rep (Harry Connick), things get even more conflicted.
New In Town pretty much plays it’s cliched cards out in the open, the film generating neither warmth (the film is set in a snowed-in town) or charm (Connick is good, Zellweger lacks spark) in it’s quest to entertain. She plays against Harry Connick in a pretty generic role as the misunderstood businesswoman who opens her heart to love, and finds more friendship in the small town than she ever could around the conference table. It’s predictable, fluffy romance, the kind of film you watch to simply while away the time between plane flights at airports.
To be honest, there’s not a lot more to say about it.
But we’ll try.
The film opens promisingly enough, set in Miami, sun and sand aplenty as Lucy Hill (Zellweger) drives to work. After a brief business meeting in which she’s tricked into taking an on-site evaluation of the factory up in New Ulm, Minnesota, Lucy soon finds herself in the snowbound town filled with “eccentric” locals, which is a polite way of saying “wierd”. The residents of New Ulm rely on the factory for their town’s very survival, and while she’s effectively there to shut the factory down, Lucy finds herself slowly enjoying the lifestyle the locale affords. Cold, windy, but with a warm heart, New Ulm has one thing Lucy finds more appealing: a romantic interest. Initially cold towards the local union rep, Ted (Connick), she soon warms to him and the two foster a relationship, although the fact that nobody knows the real reason Lucy’s there predicates a looming showdown.
Sure enough, the join-the-dots plot moves swiftly into “conflict & resolution” mode, with Lucy’s mission being exposed, the townsfolk banding together to throw her out, and then the emotional resolution in which our heroine turns the tables and saves the day. Yep, you could figure this out by the end of the opening credits.
Danish director Jonas Elmer, helming his first Hollywood film, gives the film a much needed sense of weight by utilising the fabulous locations to the best possible advantage. The crisp, white snow of Minnesota looks fabulously cold, a sharp contrast to the sunny, bright Miami. Exactly why the film’s opening is set in Miami is never justified, save for the fact that the corporation Lucy works for is based there, but given that the bulk of the film is set in snow, Elmer is given little latitude with experimenting with colours. The film as a whole looks decidedly drab whenever the action moves inside, and that’s a lot. The muted brown, greys and off-white’s generate a melancholy depressive quality, much of which negates any warmth the script may have had.
And it’s a truly ordinary script. Characters have virtually no backstory, not even the locals in New Ulm, which is a criminal filmmaking problem in itself. Not even Lucy has a decent characterisation, Zellweger reduced to her usual pouting, grimacing, squinty-eyed smile to generate emotion from the audience. Ted has the best luck character-wise, having recently suffered a bereavement, allowing Lucy to fall for his hard-luck story. There’s almost no originality to be found in New In Town, from both the plot to the characters it’s a carbon copy of films we’ve seen before; about the only thing new here is the location. I don’t actually remember many films based in snowy Minnesota. Pity they filmed it in Canada. The film tries hard to be a romantic comedy, although it seems somebody forgot to add the humor to it all. Unfortunately, the film relies too heavily on the quirky behavior of the locals to generate it’s laughs, which quickly becomes tired and trite, a generic humor bereft of real comedy. Comedy-lite, almost. Elmer directs the cast and script with serviceable effort, although he’s unable to make this film sparkle like it should.
Zellweger is again completely miscast as the supposedly hard-bitten Lucy, the ice-queen type who gradually warms to her intended romantic lead, and mellows out by the time the end credits roll. It’s another Bridget Jones clone, minus the British accent and Mr Darcy, and Zellweger strikes me as being completely out of her depth. She’s neither comedic nor dramatic here, which is perhaps not entirely all her fault, since the script gives her nothing to work with. Harry Connick Jnr plays his smooth, rugged lumberjack-styled character with aplomb, and it’s great to see him on screen again: I think he’s a terrific actor given the right material, and here, he nails the limited stuff he’s given. The wonderful Siobahn Fallon, a fabulous character actor best known to local audiences for appearances in films like The Negotiator, Men In Black (as Edgar’s wife), and as Mrs Zuckerman in the recent version of Charlotte’s Web, is about the only shining light here, as Blanche Gunderson, the local gossip and Lucy’s secretary at the factory. Fallon’s comedic timing is, to say the least, exemplary, and it’s her performance that lifts this flick above drudgery into merely mediocre. JK Simmons, better known as the blustery editor of the Daily Bugle from the Spider-Man films, tries hard but his character is simply too annoying to be amusing.
There’s really not too much I can add about New In Town that’s positive or congratulatory: the film is mired in adequacy and genericism, a hodge-podge of tired, cliched characters and scenarios, the kind of piffle that Hollywood seems to churn out these days labelled as “Romantic comedy”, which is really anything but. Both Zellweger and Connick Jnr have done themselves a disservice by agreeing to appear in this muck, Zellweger a long long way from her Oscar glory here, and Connick doing nothing to add to his resume in terms of quality films. It’s bottom rung entertainment, a trifle of a film with little to add to the gradually building miasma that Hollywood calls “quality filmmaking”.