This afternoon, I went to see New In Town, the romantic comedy set in New Ulm, Minnesota. It follows the story of Lucy Hill, a corporate executive from a food company based in Miami who is sent to New Ulm in the middle of winter. Her job is to downsize a factory and automate it. It's a typical fish-out-of-water story, complete with hunky Ted Mitchell (played by Harry Connick Jr.) as the local union rep who gets under Lucy's skin.
I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by how Lucy was portrayed. I mean, I thought it was nothing short of a miracle that the director was able to get a clay golem animated by an ancient kaballistic spell to act with such an emotional range.
Wait, that was Renee Zellweger? Oh. Well, that changes things.
All kidding aside, this was a horrible movie. Let's start positive. There were two bright spots, and they were Siobhan Fallon and a surprisingly rotund J.K. Simmons. Their characters were great (even if Fallon's Blanche was a ridiculous stereotype; more on that in a moment).
But we can't remain positive forever or for even very long with this movie. For starters, there's Zellweger's Lucy, a shrieking harridan of a character with absolutely no redeeming or endearing qualities. I get that she's supposed to be a corporate shark. I do. But there wasn't a trace of human warmth in her for most of the movie. That's probably why she didn't like Minnesota so much. Someone that cold blooded would risk death if they set foot in our state.
Which brings me to my biggest beef with this movie. Was this really supposed to be set in New Ulm? I get it, filming in Minnesota can be a bit expensive. I recently read an article that said that Minnesota hasn't kept up with surrounding states when it comes to giving breaks to movie makers. So it makes fiscal sense for Hollywood to head up to Winnipeg. But you'd think that they'd send some people to get a feel for what the real New Ulm is like.
Apparently not, though. The movie's New Ulm is ridiculous. It's portrayed as a dinky little town with a single main drag, a community where if the yogurt plant closes, everything will go down the tubes. Everyone wears flannel. TVs only get shows from the '50s. And everyone speaks with the stereotypical Minnesota accent, doncha know?
Small problem: that's not even close to the real New Ulm. I have family in New Ulm. I've been there a number of times. Where was Dr. Martin Luther College? Where was the statue of Hermann the German? And why, in a town founded primarily by German immigrants, does most everyone speak with a Norweigian accent that most Minnesotans only bust out to tell Ole and Lena jokes? Simply put, the New Ulm in the movie is nothing like the real one, which is odd since this movie is supposedly based on a real story.
What's more disturbing to me is that Hollywood seems to assume that a trip to a small town in southern Minnesota (not northern, you imbeciles!) wouldn't just be a trip across country, it'd also be a voyage back in time. The movie is riddled with stereotypes (Fallon's Blanche one of them), hollow characters that lack depth.
The real tragedy of this movie is that there are so many missed opportunities. It's pretty clear that Ted Mitchell's daughter Bobbie isn't too keen on Lucy when she first arrives. Why not explore that tension a bit? It was obvious that Flo, the town's diner's waitress, really doesn't like Lucy, yet she only appears twice. Given that the run time is only 97 minutes, they had some wiggle room to develop some of these dead ends.
Some might consider this movie a love letter from Hollywood to small town America. If that's what it's supposed to be, the message delivered is actually the title of another movie out right now: he's just not that into you.