Making the Grades
Living in a land covered by snow for about half of the year, it’s always hard for me to feel empathy for someone who shrieks at the sight of winter. Yet for Lucy Hill (Renee Zellweger), a resident of Florida, dwelling in such a climate seems like the ultimate sacrifice. But an ambitious desire to claw her way up the corporate ladder at the food processing company where she works means she is willing to do whatever it takes—even if it involves accepting an assignment in Minnesota to restructure one of the company’s plants.
Bracing for the Arctic blast, she bravely exits the airport with a screamed, but carefully edited, near-sexual expletive. And the icy temperature is only the beginning of her chilly reception. Arriving at the small town of New Ulm, the Miami blonde in stiletto heels feels more than a fish out of frozen water when she meets the locals—a selection of highly stereotyped Scandinavians, scrap bookers and beer guzzling laborers.
Squarely focused on the head office’s plans to automate the facility and lay-off half the workers, this woman on a mission is not destined to win friends or popular approval. Completely forgetting to take into account how these strange strangers may affect her, Lucy is surprised when she begins to become attached some of them. These characters include her executive assistant Blanche Gunderson (Siobhan Fallon Hogan)—a nosey Christian, and the town heartthrob Ted Mitchell (Harry Connick Jr.)—who also happens to be the local union rep. Needless to say, the wintry landscape won’t be the only thing melting as Lucy begins to see life from a whole new perspective.
While the film’s plot is thoroughly predictable, it’s ratings process was not. Originally it was awarded a PG-13 from the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) in early November 2008—good timing considering the movie contains a Christmas scene where Lucy appears affected by the Christians in her new community. However the film’s distributor, Lionsgate, must have gotten cold feet over releasing the tinselly tale during the packed holiday season and instead shelved it until January 2009. They also trimmed some profanities after admitting the film “received strong early word-of-mouth from family-friendly audiences.” In other words, families at early screenings liked it, but weren’t happy with the language.
Although these alterations did result in a more lenient rating being assigned, there are still a few issues that may keep parents from truly embracing this story. Along with the aforementioned near sexual-expletive, there are over thirty mild profanities and a half-dozen terms of Deity (high numbers for a PG film). Also, an extended comedic sequence evolves from a woman’s problems trying to keeping her erect nipples from being visible through her clothes, and after an unmarried couple on a sofa is suddenly interrupted, the man is shown doing up his pants.
This content is unfortunate, as is the production’s lack of artistic merits and unlikely romantic pairing. Still, if you are willing to look past these blemishes and the fact that there is really nothing New in this town, you will find some commendable messages about the strengths of a community pulling together, looking past first impressions and putting people before profits. And that may be something to warm your heart on a frosty day.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about New In Town.
New Ulm is an actual community in Minnesota, but rather than Scandinavians (as is implied by portrayals in this movie) it has a prominent German population. Learn more about New Ulm and read an article from the New Ulm Journal about how it was included in this movie.
For Canadians (and others who live in cold climates), you may have a chuckle reading about how Renee Zellweger reacted to filming this movie in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Home Video Viewing Alternatives
Here are some ideas for home video titles that are related to New In Town.
Other fish-out-of-water stories include Sarah Plain and Tall (about a spinster from the east coast who comes to live with a prairie farm family), Mulan (a young girl who pretends to be a boy and then joins the army) and To Sir With Love (where an educated, but unemployed gentleman takes a job teaching a group of ignorant, ill-mannered students).