Lucy Hill (Renee Zelweger) is the sole female executive for Munck Foods in Miami. Her career is her priority. When her boss mentions that one of their blue collar manufacturing plants needs some restructuring, Lucy volunteers. She is less than enthused however, when she learns that she will have to temporarily relocate to a small town in wintry Minnesota.
Lucy’s arrival in New Ulm is less than promising. The town’s citizens and plant employees are prejudiced against her. Lucy’s chilly attitude does nothing to endear her to them. Things go from bad to worse when she unintentionally antagonizes both the local union representative, Ted (Harry Connick Jr.) and Stu (J.K. Simmons), the plant foreman. Her only ally is her overly friendly secretary Blanche (Siobhan Fallon Hogan).
Thanks to Blanche’s efforts, Lucy slowly begins to warm up to the people of New Ulm. She begins to see them as individuals with something to offer, instead of names and statistics related to her job. As Lucy starts to involve herself in the community she finds she has more in common with these small town folk than she wants to admit. Her relationship with Ted also begins to heat up, though Stu still resists all of her efforts at reconciliation.
Lucy’s love for her new friends is challenged when her boss orders her to close the plant which provides the main source of employment for New Ulm. She is forced to re-examine her priorities and determine where her heart belongs.
New in Town is one of those films that really deserves to be better known. It is not just a cute little romantic comedy. Though sweet and funny the story line has some depth. New in Town explores an often ignored part of the American work force; blue collar plants in small towns. Many of these places live and die by these plants and any changes often affect the whole town.
With a Minnesota setting there is a lot of winter in this film. While the conditions play a part in the movie, the climate is not the focus of the story. Ironically, Lucy’s emotional journey is the exact opposite of her physical journey. She starts off in the warm ocean climate of Miami. Lucy’s heart and life are rather sterile. Her rigid, icy demeanor is the result of a lonely woman who has a competitive challenging job in an environment dominated by men.
Upon her arrival in Minnesota, she still projects this image as a protective mechanism. Only Blanche refuses to be frozen out by Lucy’s less than friendly response. But the chilly elements are balanced out by the warm friendliness of Blanche and others. As Lucy begins to adapt to the Northern climate, she also experiences a personal thaw.
Several of Lucy’s experiences with the chilly, winter weather are rather funny and set her up as a fish out of water. Upon her arrival at the airport, she is clearly unprepared for Minnesota. She is dressed in a business suit with heels and dons a lightweight jacket before heading outside for a cab. She no sooner steps through the door, than a blast of artic air has her swearing and pivoting back inside. This is a clear foreshadowing of her initial reception in New Ulm.
Another scene shows her trapped in her car in a snow drift after running off the road. While waiting for rescue, she stays warm by drinking a bottle of liquor. When Ted finally finds Lucy, the alcohol has loosened her lips. It is the first crack in her emotional thaw towards Ted. Later on she and Ted bond in another outdoor scene, when he takes her bird hunting. By this time Lucy has warmed up to Ted and is a good sport about sitting out in a bird blind in the snow. Although she does get her payback when she accidentally shoots him in the rear.
New in Town is a picture that is rather special to me. My mother grew up very close to New Ulm. Most of my life I’ve listened to her stories about life in Minnesota. She is still traumatized by the long, freezing Minnesota winters. Occasionally, I can still catch a trace of that northern accent with its’ long o’s in my aunt’s voice. And Blanche’s coveted specialty of tapioca pudding is a dessert that I grew up eating. Even as an adult, I still love it. Watching New in Town is like stepping into my mother’s memories. It feels both foreign and very familiar. And it gives me a context for her stories.
If you haven’t yet seen New in Town, may I suggest you remedy that? Despite the wintry setting and cinematography, the story line and characters are absolutely heartwarming.