New in Town: Screwball Comedy Starring Renee Zellweger and Harry Connick Jr.

The title says it all.  Previous titles of “New in Town,” Lionsgate’s pre-Valentine’s Day release, might have have been called Miami or Moonlighting in Minnesota, but it’s the same old-fashioned screwball comedy that Hollywood has been telling and retelling since the beginning of the sound era.

The only (minor) consolation about this formulaic romantic comedy is that Renee Zellweger gets to play the lead and the whole project is revolving around her presence, after having being relegated to secondary roles, most recently the George Clooney’s football comedy “Leatherheads” and Ed Harris’ Western “Appaloosa,” in both of which she was miscast as the woman in between.

What has happened to the career of this once charming and versatile actress  Lack of choice parts Need to work Back in the late 1990s, with such terrific comedies as “Jerry Maguire” and “Bridget Jones’ Diary,” she showed tremendous promise to become a young, fresh, vibrant leading lady—but that was before she won the 2003 Supporting Actress Oscar for “Cold Mountain,” which might have been a curse rather than blessing.

Based on the often-used premise of the fish out of water, the tale, credited to Kenneth Rance and C. Jay Cox, is so tired and tiresome that it’s even boring to write about it. Zellweger plays Lucy Hill, an ambitious, future-oriented executive living in Miami. Upscale life, dominated by materialism and conspicuous consumption has made her she to the corporate ladder as well as her expensive car and large collection of shoes (regards from Sarah Jessica Parker in “Sex and the City”)

Things change, when Lucy is offered a temporary assignment in the middle of nowhere, rural Minnesota, to restructure a manufacturing plant.  Not realizing the change of lifestyle involved, she enthusiastically grabs the opportunity, perceiving it as yet another step in her seemingly blossoming career.

Once in the country, what begins as just a job assignment turns into a transformative life experience, with Lucy gaining new identity and values, and discovering greater meaning in her everyday life.  The new package also involves falling for a fantasy kind of man, Ted Mitchell, playing by Harry Connick, Jr.

Like countless heroines before her, such as Diane Keaton in the far superior 1986 comedy “Baby Boom,” Lucy begins as a head-strong career-oriented urban woman, who must deal with a new reality, excruciating cold weather with sub-zero temperatures, provincial small town values, quirky rural eccentricities, and feelings for a man that she doesn’t even like, or thinks she doesn’t like. 

The biggest “challenge” Lucy faces is Ted, the union leader of the factory she has been sent to restructure.  Played in the film by actor and musician Harry Connick, Jr., Ted is a blue-collar guy who cares about his community and the welfare of his employees whose jobs are under siege. 

By the book scenario first depicts the couple, who’re predisposed to disliking each other, engaged in battle of wits and personality clashes.  Unfortunately, Zellweger and Connick are not Hepburn and Tracy, or Diane Keaton and Sam Shepard, and thus they go through the predictable motions in a routine way step-by-step, with the audience always ahead of the game.


It would be offensive to use realism or credibility as yardsticks in evaluating this inane fairy tale, whose heroine, always on high heels (even at the plant), combines attributes of the feisty Sally Field in “Norma Rae” and Julia Roberts in “Erin Brockovich,” and shamelessly borrows from countless films.  Trying to evoke the spirit of Capra’s Depression tales, this is a fake populist saga, with a phony happy ending. 

Some viewers may enjoy Zellweger’s skills as a physical comedian, taking advantage of her character’s clash with Nature, New Ulm’s offbeat values as a friendly Christian-based community with population of 13,593 residents, mostly of German and Swedish descent, and other obstacles.


In his second feature (after “Lynne”) and first American project, Danish filmmaker Jonas Elmer doesn’t show particular appreciation of all things American, which would not have mattered if the script were fresher or wittier.  I can only imagine what Joel and Ethan Coen would have done in their depiction of “America’s most German town,” by way of language, accent, and subculture.

Scripted and directed as an inspirational saga, “New in Town” is about a woman who’s stubborn, tenacious, and ultra-confident but she is still capable of changing.  Thus, despite ardent intentions, she discovers her better self and is faced with the challenge of making positive changes in her life.


The movie must have been in the works before Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and call for basic changes in our personal and collective lives, and I hope Hollywood would respond with better, more challenging picture to the new exciting zeitgeist. 


Lucy Hill – Renee Zellweger
Ted Mitchell – Harry Connick Jr.
Stu Kopenhafer – J.K. Simmons
Trudy Van Uuden – Frances Conroy
Blanche Gunderson – Siobhan Fallon Hogan


A Lionsgate release of a Lionsgate and Gold Circle Films presentation of an Epidemic Pictures/Edmonds Entertainment/Safron Co. production. Produced by Paul Brooks, Darryl Taja, Tracey Edwards, Peter Safran. Executive producers, Scott Niemeyer, Norm Waitt.
Co-producers, Jeff Levine, Phyllis Laing.
Directed by Jonas Elmer.
Screenplay, Kenneth Rance, C. Jay Cox.
Camera, Chris Seager.
Editor, Troy Takaki.
Music, John Swihart; music supervisor, Alexandra Patsavas.
Production designer, Daniel Davis; art director, Edward Bonutto.
Set designers, Gordon Peterson, Rudy Braun.
Costume designers, Darena Snowe, Lee Harper.
Sound, Leon Johnson.

Running time: 95 Minutes.