When I saw wisps of snow drifting silently and menacingly across barren asphalt in the opening credits of New in Town, I felt a shudder of recognition. Having lived in Minnesota for five years during and after college and having traveled back there every winter to visit my wife's family, it was a familiar sight. But it's about as close to realism as New in Town — set in New Ulm, Minnesota, aka "the Polka Capital of the Nation" — gets until at least a half-hour in.
The film stars Renée Zellweger, not so much slumming as settling in to what can only be called the Sandra Bullock role as a high-powered Miami executive sent to rural Minnesota in the dead of winter to "convert," "automate," and eventually "downsize" the workforce of one of her company's far-flung food plants.
As witnessed in films from Grumpy Old Men to Fargo, the upper Midwest is second only to the South as cinematic fodder for insulting local color, and the first half hour or so of New in Town lays the yokel humor on thick. For the record, I've never witnessed Vikings fans donning funny hats while watching the game at home (Packers fans, maybe), though I did have a roommate who watched the Vikings alone in his underwear while drinking whiskey straight from the bottle; he once assaulted and destroyed our dorm-room phone after a costly Warren Moon interception. On the other hand, the yummy tapioca pudding that is featured here in a key plot point is probably being generous to the culinary standards out-state.
Unbearable in its opening fish-out-of-water stretch, New in Town then strives toward amiable, formulaic mediocrity. Zellweger's big-city interloper witnesses the locals caroling at Christmas, and her heart grows three sizes that day. She meets a hunky fireman/union rep (Harry Connick Jr.) with a conveniently dead wife and a teen daughter (Ferron Guerreiro) so surprising natural by New in Town's standards that her rote subplot turns into the film's highwater moment. By the time the work assignment and budding relationship are resolved in classic Team America: World Police "We Need a Montage" style, the badness is almost enjoyable.
New in Town
Opening Friday, January 30th