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New In Town

By Cole Haddon | Posted 1/28/2009

Lucy Hill (Renee Zellweger) is on the fast track to a VP seat at her Miami-based corporation, but when she's sent to New Ulm, Minn., to downsize and eventually shutter a union plant, she begins to question everything she believes about the value of the working man. En route, New in Town shamelessly plays to blue-collar families' fears of corporate America's seeming indifference to their survival.

New Ulm is jam-packed with eccentric types, such as plant manager Stu Kopenhafer (J.K. Simmons). He and his employees play games with Lucy, even dupe her into believing in bogus holidays so they can take the day off. If you've ever been in a union shop, you know this is actually a daily routine for guys like this, a way to get back at the suits. There's also local union rep Ted Mitchell (Harry Connick Jr.), an out-of-town college grad who has more brains than Lucy first gives him credit for. Eventually, he becomes her guide to the town--not literally, but in an expectedly romantic way. As their attraction grows, Lucy lets her guard down and begins to see the residents of New Ulm for what they are: noble, hard-working people, the salt of the earth, who deserve the jobs they've been working their whole lives.

Now, this all sounds entertaining enough, especially given the current economic climate, but New in Town fails because it blatantly panders to slogans over substance. The problem here is that as much as the movie argues that corporate America is evil, the solution it offers is to beg corporations to be responsible for their employees by dreaming up other ways to keep factories going when profits dry up. Worse, it pokes fun at union-shop indifference toward productivity and profit in the way employees take paid days off for fun and sabotage work schedules, but doesn't make real any judgments. Corporations are expected to be socialist, but the working men and women of America are not. This wasn't supposed to be the message of New in Town, but it's the one it conveys, despite the opportunity it had to be a smart satire of corporate factory life.

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