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Monday, March 8, 2021

Life + Arts

Acting, plot not new

City slicker goes to a small town, learns to laugh, love and treat people like human beings, and then must somehow use her urban-smarts to save the people and place she’s come to call home.

If you’ve seen this movie, you’ve seen Renee Zellweger’s latest film New in Town. Don’t expect any twists on the old formula, but New in Town gets off from a rocky start to be a cute romantic comedy by the end.

Early on, the film tries too hard to crank out those first few laughs, relying on stereotypes about city girls and Yankee hicks for some cheap jokes. Up-and-coming Miami executive Lucy Hill (Zellweger) is na’iuml;ve, even bordering on the idiotic, when she’s sent to a microscopic-sized town in Minnesota to modernize the plant her company has just purchased.

The humor and Hill both warm up about halfway through the film after a brush with disaster begins teaching the ambitious businesswoman to see more than the bottom line. From here on the humor feels much less forced for the most part, letting Zellweger and co-star Harry Connick, Jr. show off their comic timing.

Even their physical comedy takes on some refreshing originality, and the humor begins relying more on the characters and less on mockery of the truck-driving, tapioca-eating, Bible-thumping locals. And when the parent company threatens to close the entire plant, Hill’s proposed solution grows organically from the film, showing off some clever writing that could have benefited the rest of the movie.

Connick plays Ted Mitchell, the scrabble-bearded, good-hearted single dad who, true to formula, locks horns with the heroine before warming up to her strong personality. Connick plays the role with the warmth it requires, and he makes most of the genuinely funny parts of the movie work, from Hills’s first crow-hunting adventure to sending his 13-year-old daughter on her first date. Even here, however, most of the jokes give you the nagging feeling that you’ve seen them all before.

One pleasant surprise is J.K. Simmons as the ice-fishing, Minnesotan-accented foreman of the plant, Stu Kopenhafer. Simmons, who is recognizable from television’s ‘The Closer’ and supporting roles in Burn after Reading, Juno and Spiderman 3 pulls off Kopenhafer’s accent without sounding affected and plays the characters’ mocking treatment of Hill without going to the point of being unlikable. The film could have used a bit more originality, but it is what it is: a romantic comedy that offers a few good laughs, a lot of cheap ones and a feel-good ending. It’s hard to ask much of a movie that doesn’t ask much of the audience, and there are no surprises here. If you like most romantic comedies, you’ll like this film.

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