Based on its marketing and pre-Valentine’s Day release, New in Town seems positioned as a standard romantic comedy. But not only is it a cut above much of that genre’s fare, considering the ever more dire business and employment data emerging every day, it’s also a happy tale of economic salvation.
Lucy (Renee Zellweger ) is a driven executive with a Miami-based food products company. When her boss asks for a volunteer to turn around a faltering plant in Minnesota, Lucy (who harbors ambitions of being CEO herself someday) journeys to snowbound New Ulm (population 13,000) with an agenda of automating the plant and reducing the workforce. In addition to underestimating the frigidity of a Minnesota winter and the receptiveness of the workers to introducing robots to the production line, Lucy clashes with Ted (Harry Connick Jr.), the local union steward who wants to protect as many of the plant’s jobs as he can. He’s also (naturally) the town’s most attractive and eligible bachelor. But as Lucy comes to appreciate the plant’s workers as more than items on a balance sheet, she must figure out a way to make the corporate bosses see the plant’s value as well-before they shut it down.
New in Town mines plenty of stereotypes for laughs: Midwestern accents and pastimes like ice fishing; an executive smart enough to aim for the C-suite but who can’t figure out how to dress for the cold. But unhip as New Ulm’s residents may be-crow hunting and scrapbooking are favorite leisure pursuits-they’re sharp enough to mistrust Lucy’s motives when she arrives, suspecting that layoffs will follow in her wake. Zellweger brings both toughness and a light comic touch to her role. And the conflict between the two leads-which often feels completely contrived in romantic comedies-has substance here, as Lucy and Ted’s first meeting degenerates into a shouting match about the virtues and venality of free-market capitalism. Finally, it’s refreshing to see Lucy achieve her professional ambition without having to sacrifice her love life. Who says you can’t have it all?