As stereotypes go, Minnesotans don't have it so bad.
It's the accents, donchaknow. And the ice fishing, polka dancing, hockey playing, Jesus loving, 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.
Minnesoooooota 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 (Renee 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 Hogan).
"Are you a scrapper?"
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 may, where they always may.
Zellweger is 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 anybody who's 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've 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 cliches and snow as they do, they didn't have the nerve to film it in Minnesota (Winnepeg stood in for New Ulm). But ya' know, formula's just another word for "recipe," and this one has just the right home-cooked ingredients.
NEW IN TOWN
3 stars (out of 5)
Cast: Renee Zellweger, Harry Connick Jr., J.K. Simmons
Director: Jonas Elmer
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Industry rating: PG for language and some suggestive material
(c) 2009, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.).
Visit the Sentinel on the World Wide Web at http://www.orlandosentinel.com/.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.