Carly at the Movies | New in town, old in plot

“New in Town” is a romantic comedy that breezed through theaters with hurricane speed and now is about to disappear into movie limbo. However, it clings to life at the Harrisonburg 14, and still deserves a few words.
I’ll admit that I chuckled all the way through this piece of fluff with a plot that was old in Hollywood when “It Happened One Night” premiered in 1934. Why the laughs? Well, “New in Town” is as comfy as an old pair of pajamas, with no surprises and a steady stream of laughs based on the fact that Minnesota is funny.

In this corner, in a template battle-of-the-sexes, is Renee Zellweger, unfortunately looking leathery and bloated in the bitter northern winter, facing Harry Connick Jr.

Harry plays your stereotyped blue-collar, beer-guzzling Union Representative at a food plant in a tiny Minnesota village, against Renee’s Corporate Condor female. Renee’s been sent from company headquarters in Miami to either boost production and sales at the plant or close it down. Harry and the good people of New Ulm, Minn., naturally, are quite content with the quaint status quo.

Never-out-of-work J.K. Simmons (seen weekly as Willie Pope on TV’s “The Closer”) and character actress Siobhan Fallon have most of the good lines in this film, her as Renee’s rural secretary and J.K. playing the plant foreman. Everyone talks with that funny “Fargo” accent except Renee and Harry.

Well, let’s face it. Minnesota IS funny. The Coen brothers captured its unique take on life in their great 1996 film, “Fargo.” Garrison Keillor has made a good living from it for years and years on “A Prairie Home Companion.” And, in an attempt to capture just a smidge more of it, Danish director Jonas Elmer was brought in to helm “New in Town.”

Although the critics jumped on this movie like a pack of hungry lions on a wounded gazelle, there’s some cute stuff in it if you’re seeing it simple for entertainment, and willing to sit back and let the plot meander down familiar gullies. It’s funny, I guess, unless you’re from Minnesota and sensitive about being the poster state for Country Bumpkinism.

Arkansas held that title for many years, on the wings of “Lum and Abner” and other film and radio shows. Here in Virginia, we look to neighboring West Virginia as a kind of haven for marry-your-cousin type hick jokes. But by and large, loveable, fast-frozen Minnesota has claimed the national title in recent years. “New in Town” will only add to the lore captured on film (don’t forget “Juno,” too) and personified by a penchant for electing wrestlers and comedians as state Governor.

Small towns jam-packed with quaint and kooky characters have long been the setting for comedies. In cinema fantasy, Ireland is dotted with such villages, and films like “Waking Ned Devine” help us cling to the old fashioned notion that rural life is somehow superior to urban. Perhaps, perhaps not; either way, “New in Town” is a perfect film for those of us who don’t need a stirring messsage, and are willing to indulge the daydream that anyone in corporate management would throw in with us mere workers. In this age of corporate CEO pirates, that would really be something new in town.


– Column by Carl Larsen

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