New in Town
Very few reality shows take place in Minnesota.
Why? Too cold, that's why. In February, as the spring TV season gets underway, nobody's splashing around the state's 10,000 lakes in shorts and bikinis—the standard uniform, really, for folks in Survivor and Big Brother. Even by the time May sweeps roll along, Minnesotans are still buried under layers of GORE-TEX. The state surely has its share of beautiful people, but it's hard to tell underneath all those hooded parkas. Thus, TV execs aren't interested.
Lucy Hill would understand their reluctance. A nattily dressed business-world dynamo in sunny Miami, Lucy is suddenly tasked with modernizing and downsizing a small-town Minnesota food plant. But she's a city girl who believes "family time" is a quaint block of television programming and "comfort food" is a plain chicken breast eaten while sitting on a chaise lounge.
So foreign is Minnesota in Lucy's eyes that it might as well be Timbuktu with bake sales. The natives speak in strange homilies which end in the absurdly compressed expression donchaknow. They participate in quaint, mysterious rites: scrapbook parties, gift exchanges, family dinners around a curious piece of furniture called a table. These backward people don't even let their daughters listen to Fergie, for cryin' out loud. It's enough to make Lucy cast her perfectly manicured hands skyward in frustration.
When she arrives, the townsfolk prove not to be too fond of Lucy, either. The plant foreman tricks her into closing the plant for "Gopher Day" (a holiday he just made up). Employees turn her talk of "synergy" and "mechanization" into a drinking game. And when Lucy gets fed up with the shenanigans and fires the foreman, all the machines in the plant (workers say) mysteriously break down.
But no mere immigrant from Miami, no matter how high her heels are, can completely squelch New Ulm's sweet, quirky heart. Blanche, Lucy's secretary, invites her to scrapbooking parties and gives her bowls of her famous tapioca pudding. When Lucy runs off the road during a snowstorm, a local union boss named Ted rescues her and takes her home.
And before the Minnesota winter breaks, Lucy finds that she's warming up—to Ted, to Blanche, to the whole stuck-in-a-snow-rut town. But she still has to fire, like, half of its occupants.
New in Town tells us that old-fashioned values never really go out of style. The denizens of New Ulm eat dinner together, make homemade valentines for one another and bake like crazy. While this view of small-town life may not be entirely realistic (what, doesn't anyone even surf the Internet?), it is refreshing. Ted, a widower raising a 13-year-old daughter, is a fine example: While Lucy insinuates that Ted may be "overprotective," the reality is that he takes his daughter's upbringing seriously. He won't let Bobbie listen to Fergie (success shouldn't be equated with how sexy you can be, he says), and when his little girl prepares to go on her first date, he nixes any provocative clothes. "She's 13," he says. "Sexy isn't on the menu." He also tells Lucy that he once lived in North Carolina, but moved to Minnesota to be closer to the Mayo Clinic so he could care for his ailing wife. Once she died, he stuck around for Bobbie's sake. "It didn't seem fair for her to lose her home and her friends and her school and all of that" so soon after losing her mother, he says.
But Lucy's not a bad egg, either. Her drive to become big boss lady came from her father, a smart but underappreciated maintenance worker who instilled in her the importance of education and the belief that if she worked hard enough she might have chances he never had. She learns to love the town and its people and appreciates all they've done for her. And near the end, Lucy puts her career on the line to try to save their jobs.
"Have you found Jesus?" Blanche asks Lucy when she first comes to town. "Well, I didn't know He was missing," Lucy says with a laugh. Pause. "Normally we don't joke about Jesus around here," Blanche says.
The scene, obviously, jokes about Jesus. But as New in Town tweaks Christianity a bit, it also seems to understand that faith, really, is not a laughing matter. You can feel that vibe onscreen. And you can hear it in the screenwriter's conversations:
"It was very important for Blanche's character to hold true to her values," Ken Rance said in an interview posted by Trailer Addict. "And, you know, I try to incorporate values into all that I write."
Blanche's faith is indeed central to her character—informing her interactions with everyone, particularly Lucy. When Blanche gives Lucy a "starter" scrapbook, she tells the newcomer that even when things get tough, she's not alone. Jesus is with Lucy, Blanche says, "and so am I." The movie gives us a paradox that's really endemic in faith: Christianity isn't cool—and yet, in many ways, it is.
Lucy discovers this herself one night near Christmas, when she joins an annual trek to the town Christmas tree. The townsfolk around her all sing the traditional carol "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" as they walk, and while Lucy doesn't join in, it's clear she's moved. She's moved more by the sense of community than than any overt expression of faith, yet the choice of the song suggests that faith, in essence, helps bring these people together.
Ted and Lucy's romance runs along predictable comedy lines: Boy meets girl. Girl hates boy. Boy saves girl from snowstorm. Girl shoots boy in rump with shotgun. And on it goes.
The two get together one night after sending Bobbie out on her first date. They (Ted and Lucy) kiss and possibly do a bit more than just make out on the couch. We don't see the groping, but when Bobbie returns a bit early, both sit up abruptly and Ted refastens his pants.
Ted's warning to his daughter's date before the two go out turns into a rather rough double entendre: "Whatever you do to my daughter, I do to you," he says. Bobbie's date says that she looks "hot," to which Ted retorts, "The h--- she does!"
Lucy wears formfitting business suits and a sweater that reveals too much. (Blanche's husband ogles her.) Ted tries to help her unzip her coveralls during a hunting expedition so she can relieve herself. Thwarted, he eventually slits open the back—along with the garments she's wearing underneath—and asks her if she's wearing a thong. When she's stranded in her car during a snowstorm, Lucy uses a reddish bit of negligee as a flag to attract would-be rescuers. When Ted finds her, she calls him "sexy," then tells him not to get any funny ideas.
Lucy accidentally shoots Ted with a shotgun. She also falls off a porch and angrily kicks a hard hat. The plant foreman throws a duck decoy to the floor. One character mentions that Minnesota's cold often kills people: She thinks it's "nature's way of thinning out the herd."
Crude or Profane Language
Two uses of the s-word and one strongly suggested f-word. Other profanities include "a--," "d--n," "h---" and a handful of abuses of God's name—along with words like "bejesus" and "gol-dang."
Drug and Alcohol Content
What do Minnesotans do for fun when they're not caroling, hunting or saving their local factories? According to New in Town, they drink. The first time Lucy meets Ted, she notices beer dribbling through his beard. Blanche's husband tells Lucy that "anything you can uncork, uncap or unscrew, I'll drink it." Blanche and her scrapbook buddies sip from bottles of beer during their get-togethers. When Lucy visits factory workers after hours in a bar, they turn her buzzword-inflected lingo into an impromptu drinking game, taking gulps from longneck bottles when she's not looking. And Lucy, when she's stuck in her car, gets plastered. She eventually staggers through the snow, falls asleep in Ted's truck ("you're not so bad when you're unconscious," Ted says) and falls off a porch.
Other Negative Elements
One woman, describing how an earlier plant boss nearly froze to death in a walk-in freezer, says, "What that man had to do to survive is unmentionable." The scene revolving around Lucy's call of nature while in the middle of nature eats up quite a bit of screen time. The movie's scrapbook mavens enjoy gossip (though they call it "news"). Blanche talks about how her cat used to throw up all over their sofa.
Blanche seems to have been in the habit of using work time to do personal things. (She shapes up fast when Lucy calls her on it.)
The creators of New in Town, focusing on the film's spirituality, want Christians to see their movie. To that end, they cut out some harsh profanity to snag a PG rating. And they've given some Christian outlets the opportunity to interview Siobhan Fallon Hogan (Blanche), who reportedly turns down many of the parts she's offered on moral grounds.
"I get scripts and when I read them, I think, I can't believe they're going to make this," Hogan, a practicing Catholic, told the Catholic News Service. "I have very few regrets on those. No—I have no regrets on things I did not do."
That being the playing field New in Town walks onto, I have to offer a strong caveat: This is no squeaky-clean, bring-the-whole family film. The language, the drinking and the sexual innuendo are more than enough to dissuade a whole lot of parents from piling everybody into the minivan and driving across town to see it. As a "Christian" film—whatever that may mean—this movie fails.
But as a secular project that takes a bit of time to explore a few facets of Christianity (however superficially), it offers a bit more.
Some folks say that movies simply reflect the society we live in. So it always mystifies me that—in a country where half of America goes to church pretty regularly and about three-quarters of the population say God and spirituality are either "very" or "somewhat" important to their daily lives—films rarely show even a mealtime blessing.
New in Town—lightweight romcom though it may be—is brave enough to at least acknowledge that faith, for many people, is important. It's not preachy. Indeed, it is often (uncomfortably) irreverent. But it does show faith as a part of daily life—both as a foundation for who you are and a propulsion system for who you want to be. And there's something to be said for that, donchaknow.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Renée Zellweger as Lucy Hill; Harry Connick Jr. as Ted Mitchell; Siobhan Fallon as Blanche Gunderson; J.K. Simmons as Stu Kopenhafer
Jonas Elmer ( )