As stereotypes go, Minnesotans don't have it so bad.
It's the accents, don'tcha know. And the ice-fishing, polka-dancing, hockey-playing, Jesus-loving and beer-and-a-bump drinking to get through finger-freezing winters that are funny to the rest of us, especially those of us who have lived among them.
Minnesooota is always going to be the perfect setting for a frozen-fish-out-of-water romantic comedy, which is a big reason why New in Town, the first genuinely funny film of 2009, works.
It's a formula as old as the hills, older than Doc Hollywood, The Coca-Cola Kid or even The Andy Griffith Show. Send a cynical Miami city slicker (Renée Zellweger) to take over a dairy products plant in New Ulm, Minn., and lay off half its work force. Hurl her against stubborn employees (J.K. Simmons) and chummy, too-helpful ladies who scrapbook (Siobhan Fallon is one).
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Let her make the worst possible impression with the hunky local “Bud-drinking redneck with a pickup truck” (Harry Connick Jr.). And let the chips fall where they always may.
Zellweger delivers a nice blend of brittle corporate and lonely career woman. (It's implied that she had a messy breakup with another company honcho.) Her reaction on leaving the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport after flying in from Miami is one that anybody who has visited the frozen North will recognize. It involves a howling wind, “white out” (and we don't mean the goo that you dab onto typos) and profanity.
Lucy Hill's first order of business in New Ulm is to come up with a “termination list.” But in a part of the world where any number of mistakes can let you freeze to death (“Nature's way of thinning the herd”), no woman is an island. Lucy starts to warm to the place, to the way of talking.
“Oh, fer cryin' in th' beer 'n' cheese soup!”
The movie's “downsizing” and corporate callousness make it timely, the dialogue is funny enough (a few more zingers might have been nice, writers) and the predictable happens in a predictably warm way. Zellweger and Connick make a believable couple and one with real oil-and-water-don't-mix sparks. This is what romantic chemistry looks like.
The Danish director they hired to put his spin on one of Hollywood's tried and true formulas doesn't add anything to the genre. And serving up clichés and snow as they do, they didn't have the nerve to film it in Minnesota (Winnipeg, Manitoba, stood in for New Ulm). But ya' know, formula is just another word for recipe, and this one has just the right home-cooked ingredients. You betcha.