It’s like Fargo meets Doc Hollywood, with a bit of that movie with Michael Keaton and the Japanese auto executives thrown in for what-the-hell’s sake. Except that it’s bad. Terrible. Like please-just-kill-me awful.
As generic as its title while also yawningly idiotic in its own unique way, New in Town is so ridiculously simplistic that it reduces even those characters it likes to cardboard caricatures. And the ones it doesn’t like — such as its own protagonist, corporate executive Lucy Hill — well, they’re really in trouble.
Renée Zellweger’s (Bee Movie, Miss Potter) Lucy, see, is such a complete fucking moron that she, though allegedly an intelligent, college-educated, sophisticated woman, can travel from Miami to Minnesota in November without once checking Weather.com, or having the administrative assistant she surely has and surely abuses terribly check for her. So then it’s hilarious — not — how cold the inappropriately dressed bint is when she gets off the plane to begin downsizing the expendable people who work at her company’s food-packing plant in New Ulm. All those people, of course, conform to every single one of her low expectations regarding Miami-style fabulousness, lack thereof: they talk with funny accents, wear garish sweaters, drive pickup trucks, listen to country music, drink terrible cheap wine that comes in jugs, and — oh ho, this is the best part — they scrapbook. No, wait, this is the best part: they bring Jesus into regular conversations. No, wait, this is absolutely the best part: they’ve never encountered nipples before, and the ones Lucy imported from Miami are the cause of much hilarity — not — as they make an under-the-sweater appearance in this frigid, desolate, unfabulous land.
There’s a lot of goofy oompa-oompa music underscoring all of this, in case you didn’t get that it’s supposed to be funny.
At least Danish filmmaker Jonas Elmer, making his Hollywood debut (dude: why?) appears to believe that these strange Minnesotan aliens are at least nice people. Lucy, though: she’s a child in the worst way. And when she isn’t a child, she’s a shallow, vindictive, mean-spirited bitch. And I don’t mean bitch in that positive, kick-ass, self-reliant sense that the word sometimes means these days. Nope: She’s a horrible person who’s deeply unpleasant to be around, and the movie would have taken a lovely turn if the weird but nice Minnesotans had pulled a Murder on the Orient Express and jointly murdered her and sent her body through a woodchipper. It’s almost as if the screenwriters — feature newcomer Kenneth Rance and C. Jay Cox, who wrote Sweet Home Alabama, which is hardly Citizen Kane and yet whose Manolos the similar New in Town is not worthy to lick — went out of their way to invent all that stupid crap about the Minnesotans to make Lucy look even worse, in her reaction to them, than even a comedic approximation of a real person could possibly be.
Until — wait for it — out of the blue Lucy undergoes a magical transformation, and is suddenly warm and friendly and smart and wise for no reason whatsoever, except that it’s that time in the movie for her to wake up to the injustice of downsizing these nice alien Minnesotans, and time for her to fall in love with Harry Connick Jr. (P.S. I Love You, Bug), the local union rep, even though he has a Unabomber beard. All of a sudden, she’s having epiphanies about life and the universe and scrapbooking and tapioca pudding, perhaps prompted by the overbearing and manipulative soundtrack telling her — and us — how to feel. All of a sudden, she remembers all the folksy stuff about factories and work and honesty and integrity her dad told her.
And then — dear god — comes the girls-day-out montage.
Oh, and that tapioca pudding? It’s like the gun on the mantle: the minute Siobhan Fallon Hogan’s (Baby Mama, Charlotte’s Web) Jesus-talking, garish-sweater-wearing, scrapbooking Blanche mentions the tapioca, it just hovers there over the whole damn movie, just waiting for Lucy to realize that it’s the answer to all her problems. If I could see that from the beginning, how come she couldn’t? She’s supposed to be the supersmart executive. And the movie would have been a helluva lot shorter, too.