Renee Zellweger and Harry Connick, Jr. star in the romantic comedy New In Town. And I’m pleased to report that there’s something more to this odd-couple coupling than found in the usual banal January fare. Co-writer Kenneth Rance, who professes a faith in Christ, infused the script with a Christ-awareness, never suspecting those sensibilities to remain after the final cut. “As a Christian writer, what I liked was the fact that the Christian values were retained in the transition from the script to the screen.”
The writer’s aim was supported by at least one cast member. Siobhan Fallon Hogan, who plays Zellweger’s quirky but sincere secretary/liaison, Blanche, was happy about her character development. “What I appreciated about the script was that my character talks about Jesus and it’s not done disrespectfully. It’s so beautifully done.”
The situation comedy has to do with a businesswoman from balmy Miami who suddenly finds herself transferred to the frigid small town of New Ulm, Minnesota. She’s there to cut jobs, but after adjusting to Midwestern sensibilities (not to mention the unearthly cold of a Minnesota winter), Lucy (Zellweger) discovers greater meaning in life, as well as her dream hunk (Harry Connick Jr.).
At first we think our Lord is going to be the brunt of jokes when Blanche rather abruptly asks Zellweger’s Lucy, “Have you found Jesus?” To which the big-city girl responds, “I didn’t know He was missing?” This brought an uncontrolled groan from this reviewer, who worried the producers were going to use themes of faith as mere vehicles for joke-making. But by film’s end, Lucy and the audience are convinced that spiritual matters are precious to Blanche, and for her to bring Jesus into conversation is just as normal as discussing the recipe of her much-loved tapioca.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Miss Fallon Hogan continued as she addressed a room full of press, “it’s clearly a Christian character and this [faith in God and Christ] is such a huge part of the United States. It seems that Hollywood veers away from faith because it’s not hip. So I was amazed to see a script that acknowledged faith and that the producers were brave enough to do it. And I felt proud to refer to Jesus three times and it not be mocking Him.”
The film also speaks about callous conglomerates concerned more with the financial bottom line than the wellbeing of their employees.
Harry Connick, Jr.: “Doing the film made me focus on the people who make our lives livable. They produce our food, our clothing, our transportation. These people aren’t statistics. These people are people. And although I’m ignorant about how business works, there has to be some common ground between firing everybody because the company isn’t making enough money and realizing that these people have livelihoods. Hopefully this new era that we are about to embark upon will start supplying some of those answers because these people are losing everything they have.”
And in its own sly manner, the film shoots down a bicoastal myth that the Midwest is populated only by uneducated boobs.
Renee Zellweger: “I grew up in a small town. I know communities like New Ulm. They’re not simple people. They are as headstrong and determined in their perspectives as anyone who comes in and doesn’t understand those perspectives.”
And now for the extraordinary news concerning this production. Lionsgate is aiming to lessen the PG-13 rating to a more family-friendly PG. At the press screening, which took place several weeks before the opening, we in the Christian press were disappointed that this pleasant offering had to include a few unnecessary and mood-killing expletives. Though I learned those words were not in the written script, a couple of the actors attempted to punch up line deliveries with an obscenity here and a profanity there. Well, at a second screening weeks later, this reviewer discovered the following offensives had been replaced.
1) They removed Lucy saying an obscenity under the covers in reaction to the cold, with a voiced-over feminine squeak.
2) Another objectionable was dropped from the question, “----, who invited the boss lady?”
3) And the profanity blurted out by supporting actor J. K. Simmons in one scene magically became a mumbled "gulldarnit.”
This is a big deal, folks. And while my job as a movie reporter is to inform, not promote, I must admit, I’m hoping such attempts to make the material less offensive will be rewarded by your support. That said, please read my review, especially the content section, before deciding to attend.