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  Movie Review

New in Town

By Harry Forbes
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) -- "New in Town" (Lionsgate/Gold Circle) is a quirky, low-key but ultimately endearing romantic comedy about ambitious Miami-based executive Lucy Hill (Renee Zellweger), sent to downsize a food manufacturing plant in New Ulm, Minn. (actually filmed in Winnipeg, Manitoba).

On the fast track for success herself, she's appalled at what she perceives as the lackadaisical attitude of the eccentric locals, whose priorities seem to be who can make the best tapioca pudding and the joys of "scrapping" (that is, compiling scrapbooks). Among the chief proponents of these activities are best buddies Trudy Van Uuden (Frances Conroy) and Blanche Gunderson (Siobhan Fallon Hogan).

The latter -- who will be Lucy's secretary at the plant -- takes Lucy under her wing right from the start, peppering her in the car en route to Lucy's new house with personal questions, including "Have you found Jesus?"

"I didn't know he was missing," retorts Lucy, and Blanche is not amused. "Normally, we don't joke about Jesus," she admonishes.

Yes, this is clearly a Christian community, but though it seems at first that the film may be set to patronize the locals for their provincialism as well as their faith, the film does quite the opposite.

It's only a matter of time before the warmhearted community teaches the Type-A Lucy to adjust her values. Sparks fly in a heated first exchange between Lucy and good-looking Ted Mitchell (Harry Connick Jr.) at Blanche's dinner table; the ideological differences between big-city Lucy and down-home Ted are seemingly vast.

Lucy is unaware that Ted is the union rep with whom she will have to negotiate; they later bond when he comes to her rescue on a snowy night.

We learn he's a widower with a teenage daughter, still grieving for his late wife several years after her death. We also see his profoundly genuine concern as a father when he sternly lectures the girl's date before the two go off for a dance (her first), an event that leaves him with palpitations.

Zellweger and Connick have a good, natural rapport -- whether sparring or loving -- and the supporting players, particularly Hogan in her empathetic role, make strong impressions.

Besides the strong emphasis on community and loyal friendship, the film -- particularly viewed against today's economy -- resonates as a portrait of hardworking people pulling together to preserve their livelihood.

Jonas Elmer, a Dane in his English feature debut, directs an engaging cast which includes J.K. Simmons as the plant's gruff but lovable foreman, whom Lucy hastily fires before realizing his worth.

The laid-back pace takes some getting used to, but it's a refreshing departure from the usual Hollywood gloss. More amiable than outright funny -- the actual comic scenes are, at best, mildly amusing -- but the romantic aspects are well-handled. Kenneth Rance's script (with C. Jay Cox) nicely stresses the fundamental decency of this overtly Christian community.

We see this most vividly in the town's candlelit caroling of "O Come, All Ye Faithful," during which Lucy and Ted realize what they mean to each other, and there are several references to Christ throughout, as when Blanche avers proudly, "We ice fish, scrapbook and drag Jesus into normal conversation."

The language indicated below and some mild innuendo notwithstanding, the film should be fine for older teens and up.

This film contains a few crude and crass words and a single profanity. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

- - -

Forbes is director of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. More reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.


Copyright (c) 2009 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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