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A comedy with some firm values

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–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 of the movie, which is rated PG for language and some suggestive material.

“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,” he said.

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,” she said. “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, Minn. 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 man (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 me, and I 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,” Fallon Hogan said. “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. A timely topic.

And now for the reason I’m spotlighting this production. At the press screening, which took place several weeks before the opening, we in the Christian press were disappointed that this pleasant offering included a few unnecessary and mood-killing curse words, including a profane use of God’s name in one scene. 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. A few weeks later I was informed that the studio had decided to go for a PG. So I viewed another screening and was pleased to discover that several objectionables, including the misuse of God’s name, had been voiced over.

This is a big deal, folks, and I’m hoping such attempts to make the material less offensive are not a one-time offering. That said, I don’t want to give the impression that this is a G-rated film. It’s not. It still has five or six expletives and some adult material. (Visit PreviewOnline.org for a detailed listing.)

Those infractions may dissuade your support. Believe me, trying to find a film these days that doesn’t have any objectionables is difficult. Make that near-impossible. But the film has a positive statement about a relationship with Jesus and the townsfolk celebrate Christmas by caroling together around a huge outdoor lighted tree. That’s a great message being sent to movie audiences accustomed to getting negative messages concerning people of faith.
Phil Boatwright reviews films for previewonline.org and is a regular columnist for Baptist Press.

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