There's a perfect rom-com moment midway through
The sofa scene, which displays real romantic chemistry between Zellweger and Connick, is preceded by a stretch of witless setup that displays little beyond gender condescension (Zellweger's character is a cool career woman warmed by the instructive glow of small-town niceness) and regional bigotry (the Minnesotans among whom Lucy finds herself stranded go in for sausage-eating contests, "Ice Day" celebrations, and such rustic verbal filigree as "anyhoo" and "don'tcha know" — and they take Jesus awfully seriously, too: in the Hollywood view, a foible too boobish to require much comment).
Lucy is employed at the Miami headquarters of a large food-processing company. She's been assigned to take over (and downsize) one of its far-flung plants, in New Ulm (an actual Minnesota town that actually appears nowhere in the movie, which was shot in Canada). We know that she's a strong, independent woman because at one point, when Ted pulls her out of a snow bank into which she's driven her car, she barks, "I don't need a man to rescue me!" (And then falls face-down into a drift.) And we know she's an idiot because she's arrived in Minnesota in the winter without a coat (although she has brought along a collection of kicky short skirts and big-city high heels). The plant's employees resent her immediately — they know she's been deputized to institute layoffs. For her part, Lucy quickly sizes them up as clueless rubes.
This being a romantic comedy, the rest of the story plays out pretty much as you'd expect, which is fine. There's a crisis, of course, and the usual allotment of heartbreak and heart-mend, plus quite a bit of tapioca, which I won't go into. But the movie's embrace of threadbare cliché — the emptiness of professional success (for women); the superior gratifications of cake-baking, scrapbooking and other folksy pursuits — is dispiriting. There's no twist on this stuff, no new take. And parts of the movie are constructed with unusual clumsiness. There's a peeing-in-the-woods scene that's dismally awkward; and for the first third of the picture, Zellweger is so badly made-up and lighted that she looks like an under-scrubbed potato. (How much of this is the fault of the Danish director, Jonas Elmer, and how much is the work of the studio, which cut the film to secure a PG rating, is hard to say.)
There's no reason this variant of the fish-out-of-water story — metropolitan snob redeemed by the humble folk he disdains — can't be the basis of a great movie: Think only of "Groundhog Day." "New in Town" has most of the ingredients for such a picture, but it hasn't bothered to make them fresh, and thus engaging. Who should be bothered to see it?
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