"New" in humor, old in plot

Feb. 3, 2009, 1:52 p.m. | By Rose Wynn | 11 years, 8 months ago

Tenderness and comedy lost amid a blizzard of banality

Four-inch stilettos and a stubborn attitude are hardly compatible with the unrelenting wintry snowstorms of places like Minnesota (think Cameron Diaz in "The Holiday"), but the slapstick-prone combination can offer the occasional chuckle. Amid an unoriginal plot and grating Minnesotan accents comes "New in Town," a surprisingly heartwarming tale of community commitment, strong friendships and love.

Photo: The tenderhearted inhabitants of a snowy Minnesota town warm the heart of stubborn business woman Lucy Hill (Renee Zellweger). Picture courtesy of Lionsgate Entertainment.

It sounds slightly cliché: the tenderhearted inhabitants of a small, snowy town thaw the cold business-like professionalism of a Miami businesswoman. But the film in itself offers more depth of feeling and creative twists on the clichéd "change of heart" story. Sent to Minnesota to supervise the reorganization of a manufacturing plant, the tenacious and self-assured Lucy Hill (Renée Zellweger) has difficulty transitioning from warm urban Miami to freezing small-town Minnesota.

The kind and ridiculously chatty Blanche Gunderson (Siobhan Fallon Hogan) tries to set Lucy up with Ted Mitchell (Harry Connick Jr.), a seemingly stereotypical beer drinking, tractor-driving country man. Although their relations first begin in heated disagreement, Ted and Lucy eventually warm to each other. Lucy even develops a relationship with the town, even those who work in the manufacturing plant she is restructuring. When a corporate official from her Miami company sends her orders concerning the plant, she is forced to make a heart-wrenching decision between her own well-being and that of her new community.

The film overall stays somewhat engaging, but the beginning is slow-paced and fails to interest the audience. The plot seems a never-ending battle of whether Lucy or the initially aggravated citizens can be more stubborn about the plant's leadership. But as soon as the relationship between Ted and Lucy develops, the audience becomes more familiar with the characters' personalities and can appreciate the subtleties of humor.

Despite the slow beginning, the screenplay is generally engaging, complemented by a few funny one-liners and charming Minnesotan turns-of-phrase. Blanche's ridiculously simple-minded yet welcoming personality is epitomized by her cute sayings, such as "pleased as punch to meet you." The absurdity of Lucy's close-minded urban tendencies is mocked when she says, "I'm a city girl, but I know how to light a fire. Where's the switch?" These lines provide comic relief amid predictable unoriginality.

The film also offers a few comedic moments, such as when Lucy goes crow shooting with Ted in the freezing Minnesotan snow, admitting that she needs to go to the bathroom before he abruptly hands her a roll of toilet paper. She has much difficulty unzipping her outerwear and enlists Ted's assistance, which causes a comedic tussle. Short amusing events throughout the film added spice to a simple plot.

But there is no doubt that the story is sweet, spotted with tender moments and topped with a warm moral about the importance of a change in heart. The cleverly placed music also enhances the simple plot by emphasizing or mocking certain action, depending on the scene. When Lucy drives amidst a heavy and unremitting blizzard, the upbeat and joyous pop melody of "Walking on Sunshine" makes Lucy's blatant aggravation even funnier.

In general, Zellweger's facial expressions perfectly portray Lucy's irritation and egotistical independence. Her gradual transition from this initial personality to one of thoughtfulness and compassion is flawlessly acted, and perfectly offsets Connick Jr.'s simple sweetness. Hogan also performs exceptionally as the caring yet slightly nosey Blanche, who has good intentions despite her constant chatter.

Although the actors create interesting characters, they are unable to completely save the uncreative storyline. Lucy's clichéd personality makeover, which dominates the entire film, is unoriginal and her relationship with Ted entirely predictable. The audience can anticipate their rough patches before they happen, and pinpoint exactly when the two will make up.

Similarly, Lucy's blatant discomfort in the icy Minnesotan climate is not especially inventive as a part of the plot, and does little to enhance the comedic aspects of the film. When there is a lapse in humor, the audience may occasionally find themselves slightly bored of the lackluster events, but such experiences are short-lived. Despite these weaknesses, the audience still manages to get sucked in by the genuine tenderness and warm-hearted feel of the movie. Although not quite a tearjerker, "New in Town" provides some comedic moments and a warm ending that would make any newcomer feel at home.

"New in Town" (96 minutes) is rated PG for language and some suggestive material. Now playing in theaters everywhere.

Rose Wynn. I love piña coladas, getting caught in the rain and the ladies of the Blair Pom Squad. More »

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