A film review by Craig J. Koban
NEW IN TOWN
2009, PG-13, 96 mins.
2009, PG-13, 96 mins.
Zellweger / Ted: Harry
Connick Jr. / Blanche: Siobhan Fallon Hogan / Stu: J.K.
Simmons / Trudy: Frances Conroy
began to really notice one thing while watching the new romantic
comedy NEW IN TOWN:
startling simplicity and ingenuity of the illuminated theatre exit sign.
I have to admit, I got a fairly rotten seat for this film, which rested right below one of those large, omnipresent, and red glowing exit signs. Beyond checking my watch feverously throughout NEW IN TOWN’s 96 minutes, I think that I developed an almost hypnotic-like trance with staring directly into the sign.
it dawned on me: this sign is one of the most wonderfully inventive and
hideously ominous fixtures in any major theatre.
On a positive, you most certainly will not disrupt any other
movie patrons when you need to abruptly leave the theatre for a much
needed bio-break or for some extra golden-topping drenched popcorn.
On a negative, when the film you are watching is especially
mediocre and agonizingly tedious, that damn sign comprised with four
simple letters casts a haunting and overwhelming shadow over you:
At times during NEW IN TOWN I actually thought I heard it quietly
whisper, “Craig…use me.”
wish I had. NEW IN TOWN
is utterly bankrupt on any level of hearty and consistent laughs, not to
mention that the romance that it tries to foster in it is flaccidly
developed and lacks any amount of reasonable heat and passion.
My expectations for rom-coms are decidedly very simplistic: They
have to be thoroughly funny, they have to create some semblance of chemistry
between the two leads that simmers as the film progresses, and it has to
contain male and female leads that you grow to respond to, like
and yearn on to their inevitable happily ever after conclusion
before the final end credits. Despite the fact that NEW IN TOWN has likeable and appealing
actors in the leads, there is never an opportunity to fully utilize these
amiable screen personas in a plot that is worthy of their caliber of
talent. There is often no
more unpardonable sin than that of ruthlessly squandering good actors on
screen, and NEW IN TOWN typifies this through and through.
The terms "paycheck film" is stamped over every
nauseatingly dull and condescendingly silly moment of this film.
more damning is the fact that NEW IN TOWN is yet another in a depressingly
long list of comedies that seek easy and desperate laughs out of mocking
small towns and their citizens. Really,
I mean how completely old is this stale and rudimentary formula?
You know, the one where the film is particularly
abhorrent towards rural folk, so much so that they narrow-mindedly present
them as intellectually vacant simpletons whose only real redeeming quality
is their never-ending devotion towards one another.
What’s worse is the notion that the film also adds in another
incredulously dreary and overused formula – the fist out of water angle
– that has a city slicker that tries to eek out an existence with these
strange and foreign townspeople, which she sees as way down on the
evolutionary chain, but through a series of sanctimoniously phony events,
she becomes a better person because she starts to see these offbeat and
kooky people as real people that bring meaning to her life.
gag reflex has just gone into overdrive with just describing the essence
of this film in the last paragraph.
shamefully indulging in every stupid and mind-numbing small town
stereotype with its repellently cartoonish performances of these people
were not bad enough in NEW IN TOWN, then it also tries to force feed a
corporate minded story of how a big business swoops into town and
threatens the livelihoods of its workers.
Call me a cynical bastard, but the last thing that many people that
are trying to subside through one of the worst economic recessions of the
last 70 years want to sit through is a tired and unfunny comedy about
corporate layoffs and profit minded egotism.
But…wait…the film ultimately – and predictably
– has a main character that initially hates the town and unavoidably
comes to the town’s rescue by pooling together all of its resources to
put an end to any economic devastation that the corporation will reek.
To say that NEW IN TOWN is an indefensibly corny and hopelessly naïve
wish-fulfillment fantasy kind of borders on understatement.
always cute and bubbly Renee Zellweger really slums her way through this
film playing a single and fearsomely determined career woman from Miami
named Lucy Hill, who is sent by her big wig bosses in Florida to the
frigid and blisteringly cold state of Minnesota (actually Manitoba,
Canada in reality) so that she can optimize one factory’s output and
production technology. In
short, she has to update mechanization and fire a whole bunch of people
that act and talk like some rejected extras off of FARGO…but even more
excruciatingly obnoxious and inane. New
Ulm, Minnesota is cold all right (one thing the film does get right
is making its setting feel plausibly arctic), which sets up would-be
uproarious comic moments of Zellweger’s fish-out-of-water dealing with
the sub-human conditions. One
moment in particular – which has her leaving the airport upon arrival
wearing nothing but a light jacket and dress, only to recoil with horror
at the freezing temperatures – stinks of desperation.
I mean…this is a smart and proactive woman…certainly she
is able to access a computer to check how cold it will be so that she can
prepare herself for the conditions. The
script, alas, does not allow for such common sense.
Lucy thinks that she is on an alien planet while in New Ulm and seems
disdained by the total lack of sophistication and refinement of its
townspeople (this, of course, is greatly assisted by the film’s teeth
grating portrayal of these people as anything but urbane).
She meets a wide assortment of colorful and goofy people, like her
new secretary, Blanche Gunderson (Siobhan Fallon Hogan, who eerily
channels Frances McDormand’s police officer dialect from FARGO) and a
bushy bearded and tubby factory foreman named Stu Kopenhafer (played by
the usually funny J.K Simmons, who is either wearing a fat suit or has
gained a hell of a lot of weight for the role, which would prove really
wasteful for an actor of his stature to obsess over such a marginal
character). One thing is
painfully assured: good and capable actors play these parts on
hyperactive caricature mode. They
rarely, if ever, feel like real people.
However, the film does offer one persona that seems a bit more plausibly fleshed out, and that is a local union head named Ted Mitchell (Harry Connick Jr., perhaps the only actor in the film that plays his part with any amount of plausible sincerity) who has the very problematic and hostile first meeting with Lucy, and the two later have fierce verbal battles of wills. But…don’t worry…because NEW IN TOWN hits every methodical beat in the rom-com cliché playbook over the head with the subtly of a flying hammer. Cue the banal and flirtatious dialogue; cue individual moments where the two bond, discuss their pasts, come to relate to one another; cue the make out scene; cue the late breaking plot development that threatens their love; and cue their inordinately routine rosy third act where they reunite.
IN TOWN is the very first Hollywood mainstream film for Danish director
Jonas Elmer, and its almost embarrassingly unbearable at times: this man
simply has no idea about comedic pacing and timing.
One of the most annoying habits he has is to drain out all of the
comic possibilities in a scene with overbearing musical cues that attempt
to accentuate the offbeat vibe that the film is trying to attain (the
interplay between the actors, dialogue, performances, etc. should be
enough to sell the humor; we don’t need a exasperatingly maddening music
track to tell us when to laugh).
A considerable number of jokes and one-liners fall flat (look at
the horrible timing of an early dinner scene when one kid at the table
says “Awesome”…you could hear a pin drop in the theatre).
Of course, we also get many scenes involving Lucy trying to
accommodate herself to Minnesota culture, like ice fishing and peeing
outdoors, which is made difficult when her zipper gets stuck.
Hoo-hoo. The only
thing to give viewers solace through all of these chilly attempts at
slapstick is the balmy heating in the theatre.
If the laughs are strained, hackneyed, and fruitless through NEW IN TOWN, then the film also largely stumbles with the paring of Zellweger and Connick, two very appealing actors who certainly are reducing themselves to this dodgy material. Then again, it's certainly not asking a lot of any actor, regardless of talent, to make much out of a performance that has to be involved sight gags with scenes involving erect, frosty nipples and malfunctioning outer wear. Also, the transformation of Lucy’s character from conniving and selfish corporate stooge that could care less about the townspeople to an independent woman that will save them never once feels believable. Not only that, but the romantic allure between the two leads suffers from such a forced chemistry: Instead of the film asking us to fall for these two and wish them happiness, it simply instructs us that we must like them. That’s a rom-com no-no.
all of this off is a final act that literally made me wish to leave the
theatre and go outside to the frostbite-inducing conditions here in
Saskatoon. Without giving too
much away, the manner with which NEW IN TOWN attempts to be heart-warming
and upbeat when economic hardships are bearing down is pompously
manufactured. We are asked to believe that a bitch-in-heels career
woman would risk her entire working career by ignoring her
superiors by subsequently taking a gigantic business gamble with the town
because…dog gonnit…these zany, tapioca pudding, hockey, and ice fish
lovin' loons ultimately become her real family.
pass me the barf bag now.
is still a relatively new movie year, but you can reliably count the
generically awful NEW IN TOWN among the very worst films of the year thus
far. Jokes that are
frequently attempted fail with increasing reliability, the romance in the
film is neither cheerful not engaging, and the way that the film is so
head-shakingly condescending not only to its small town characters, but to
the audience watching the film as well, makes this film a stomach-churning
endurance test of will. Charm,
joviality, and a sense of warmth and compassion are completely void in
this romantic comedy, largely because NEW IN TOWN seems so painfully
constructed from the better pieces of so many countless other, more
enjoyable and successful, comedies. Cheaply
idiotic, overbearingly predictable, and mournfully squandering the talents
of most involved, NEW IN TOWN is an unoriginal, joyless, and laugh-free
And I knew I was in trouble when a sensation of happiness came over me with every glance at the theatre exit sign.