Renée Zellweger as Lucy Hill
Harry Connick, Jr. as Ted Mitchell
Siobhan Fallon as Blanche Gunderson
J.K. Simmons as Stu Kopenhafer
Mike O’Brien as Lars Ulstead
Frances Conroy as Trudy Van Uuden
Ferron Guerreiro as Bobbie Mitchell
Barbara James Smith as Joan
James Durham as Rob Deitmar
Robert Small as Donald Arling
Wayne Nicklas as Harve Gunderson
There have been many, many complaints (most with an unfortunate amount of truth to them) over the years lamenting the dearth of roles for women in Hollywood, and especially for women over the age of thirty. And that’s not just Hollywood. A lot of women have found themselves working twice as hard as their male colleagues, just to get ahead. Maybe it should be gratifying then, to see proof that–given the opportunity–actresses are just as capable of making a banal, simplistic, mildly contemptuous comedy as any man.
Lucy Hill (Renée Zellweger) is very much a woman in a man’s world, the only female executive at an international food conglomerate. She’s determined to do what it takes to make it to the top spot, up to and including taking over a Minnesota factory, to mechanize and lay off the staff (and decimate the town’s economy in the process). Needless to say, coming from bustling, cosmopolitan Miami, Lucy is not at all prepared for small-town Minnesota, with its religiosity and ice-fishing. Cue clash of cultures and hilarity, the filmmakers hope.
“New in Town” is a classic story, by which I mean old and oft repeated. It’s the kind of movie where Lucy arrives in Minnesota wearing a skirt and light sweater because obviously The Weather Channel doesn’t exist in Miami. And we know Lucy is a bit of a cold-hearted business woman because she tends to speak in made up businessese, which is routinely mocked in the film, but it’s hard to believe even Lucy thinks there’s anyone who talks like that except in mediocre romantic comedies.
Harry Connick, Jr. is the romantic interest, a single father and union representative, making him Lucy’s automatic adversary, so naturally they’ll be drawn to each other. Just in case there was any doubt, they argue at first meeting, followed swiftly by the bad-mouthing-someone-without-realizing-they’re-standing-behind-you routine.
The cast is reasonably charming, especially Siobhan Fallon as Lucy’s faithful secretary and guide to all the good things small towns have to offer (though J.K. Simmons is wasted). But there needs to be more. Cliché comedies are nothing new, of course, and a lot of the enjoyment from films isn’t now where they’re going but how they get there. But “New in Town” isn’t into trying anything outside its limited comfort zone. Whenever it looks like the ‘wit’ might be running dry, it switches to physical comedy, bits like Lucy trying to desperately to get the zipper on her borrowed overalls down so that she can go to the bathroom.
Eventually Lucy naturally becomes enamored of the town and decides to band the workers together to prove their worth to the company, and find a middle ground between small-town and urban America filled with mutual respect and rainbows. It’s as if they’ve stumbled onto the solution to our trade imbalance and the Middle Eastern peace process, all in one fell swoop.
“New in Town” is old, and worn out. Its joints are creaky, it smells like mothballs, and it just keeps repeating the same old stories over and over again. It’s just diverting enough that if there’s nothing else playing it’s worth a little bit of your time, but only a very little bit.