Hitting theaters this weekend is a romantic comedy about a Miami businesswoman who finds herself in a small middle-of-nowhere town where tapioca pudding is the craze, frozen lakes call for holidays, and switches don’t turn on fireplaces.
Starring Renee Zellweger and Harry Connick, Jr., “New in Town” follows the encounters of Lucy Hill (Zellweger), a high-powered consultant sent away by her Miami-based company to oversee the restructuring of its factory in New Ulm, Minn.
As is evident in her choice of apparel on her first day there (“How bad could it be?” she asks), Lucy has no idea what she has gotten herself into until she is greeted by sub-zero temperatures and locals that don’t take too well to changes she tries to bring into their town.
"I doubt she'll last a week, poor thing," says one of the residents.
But with the help of her new secretary and a developing love interest, Lucy finds herself warming up to the town and the people there in a way that no one, including herself, would have imagined.
Though “New in Town” is not a Christian film, it is a movie about the conversion (non-religious) that one person goes through as a result of the people around them. And that’s what writer Kenneth Rance hopes the faith-based community will take away from the film.
“Through them demonstrating love to Lucy’s character, even when she may not have been the most loveable, I think their love and their belief in Christ prevailed,” he says.
A native Minnesotan himself, Rance developed the story from the testimony of a woman he met who, like Lucy, went from city life to the local scene.
“That was the genesis from which the story spawned,” Rance says.
But to get the story to the silver screen, it took Rance 16 years, during which his wife had to take up to three jobs.
“Even though it was a 16-year endeavor, I always had the faith that God was going to bless this project,” says Rance, an outspoken Christian. “And one of the things I had always promised to the Lord was that when it did make it to the silver screen that He would definitely receive all the praise and the credit and the glory for it.”
In an interview with The Christian Post, Rance talked about the upcoming movie, the inspirations behind it, and his hope for faith-based moviegoers to support films that deliver positive messages.
“[W]e (Christian screenwriters) are out there and we’re fighting the good fight to be able to tell a variety of types of stories. We just need more votes from the fold,” Rance says.
The following is an edited version of the interview that Rance held with The Christian Post ahead of the Jan. 30 release of “New in Town”:
CP: The plot for the movie was based on a true story you heard from someone you met quite a while ago. When you finally got down to write the story, years later, what other things inspired you or what inspirations did you gain along the way?
Rance: One of the primary inspirations for the story was just me trying to examine or depict loneliness. With every film that I write, I try to bring it down to one particular word. In this case, it’s loneliness. So when I completed the first draft of the screen play, I actually sent it to Leticia (the woman whose story the movie is based off of) for her review. And she thought it was a great screenplay. Actually she said ‘I think it’d make for an even better book.’ And so I utilized her because she’s very knowledgeable and it was based on her experience there. And research is always important to me as writer. It’s always important to me that it’s organic and that it rings true so that audiences can empathize with the messages I’m trying to convey.
And I think also the inspiration of having the faith that the film was going to make it to the silver screen. Even though it was a 16-year endeavor, I always had the faith that God was going to bless this project. And one of things I had always promised to the Lord was that when it did make it to the silver screen that He would definitely receive all the praise and the credit and the glory for it.
And I think if there was anything that served as motivation and inspiration, it was faith that God would make good on His promises, always.
CP: What are some of the key messages you hope to convey through this movie?
Rance: As a Christian and a writer who has Christian values in his stories, what was important to me was that we saw a conversion. We saw an individual who may not have known Christ, may not have known the Lord, being exposed to a Christian and then making a change – changing their life for the good. I’m not necessarily saying a ‘conversion’ but having that exposure …. And that’s one of the things I think Lions Gate and Gold Circle Films should really be applauded for. Because with Hollywood and how the industry is, this is a film that has a very short basic theme that has not made it to the screen.
CP: The town of New Ulm was distinctly Christian, but not so much that it would draw away non-religious moviegoers. Was the Christian community something you had put in from the start, or was it something that came as a result of the faith of the actual town?
Rance: Well, the city of New Ulm was selected because the woman I based the story off of actually worked in New Ulm. And that was the genesis from which the story spawned. That’s where she worked. But in regards to it being Christian, I am a native Minnesotan. And one of the things I like about Minnesotans is that they’re very open about their faith. For the community of New Ulm – whether it’s Methodist, Baptist, or etc. –Christianity, that faith, is part of who they are. It’s part of their community. So it wasn’t gimmicky in my case. And in regards to the relationship between Lucy and her born-again Christian secretary Blanche, that was very intentional. And what I love about Siobhan Fallon’s portrayal of Blanche is that she did make her character. It wasn’t hypocritical. I thought it was very organic. And I think it gave a really fair and honest demonstration of Christ being in people’s lives.
And you see that having that exposure to Blanche, she (Lucy) does make a change – the change for the better.
I’ve always said that God’s blessed me with a talent. Anytime that someone pays to be exposed to my art, it’s an honor. But more importantly, I’ve always said that if one person can be exposed to my art and make a change for the positive, for the good, then I’ve done what I was predestined or put on this earth to do.
CP: Now, there is one scene that may not sit well with more conservative audiences; I’m talking about the part after Renee and Harry’s characters send off the daughter to the school dance. Though there was nothing graphic, there was something implied that was happening or on the brink of happening. What are your thoughts on that?
Rance: Well, I think that in the case of the film, we let the viewers make assumptions in regards to what did or did not take place. I do think that it was very tastefully done and I think that through the [scene] on the couch, we get the gist of where the relationship may have been going. I know with my screen play, I intentionally didn’t have any sex scenes because I didn’t think it was appropriate or that it was necessary. And I think audiences are mature enough to make assumptions of what people may or may not do off camera.
CP: So was that scene in the movie one that you had to compromise with or one that you accepted right off the bat?
Rance: In the case of that scene, [that was] shot through the Writers Guild strike so I wasn’t on set, or I wasn’t part of the shooting at that point in time. But I think the director, Jonas Elmer, I think he did a very good job at directing that scene. And I think it was very tasteful and respectful.
As a writer and as a believer, when we’re talking about the people who may not have relationships with Christ, they’re going to do things that are not always in accordance to His Word. So, in this case, and from a more worldly perspective, that may have been part of the course.
CP: Aside from that, there were a lot of good moral values that came out, and a number of Christian values. What values did you most want to emphasize through the script?
Rance: Well one of the things, as I kind of stated before, I think a lot of times, Christians in the media are given such a bad rap …. I think that’s unfortunate, because there’s a lot of people out there that are searching for the truth and the way. So with this film, what I was most proud of was the fact that Blanche’s character and the relationships of the other women in the town were very genuine and they held true to their beliefs and their characters. Through them demonstrating love to Lucy’s character, even when she may not have been the most loveable, I think their love and their belief in Christ prevailed. I think it helped Lucy’s cold heart coming to this cold town warm up from the warmth of the women and Blanche and how they demonstrated love. I think that was most important. I think different people are going to be able to pull out different things. But I think for the faith-based community, the message is that it was really Lucy’s relationship with Blanche that really helped her change and turn around.
I think it’s also interesting that Blanche uses the word ‘Jesus’ three times in the film, and I think that was really powerful. And I think that’s really special.
CP: In closing, what final comments would you like to make to our readers?
Rance: One of the things I’d like to say is that from me having the idea to getting to the silver screen was 16 years. I think if anything would help with my story is that it serves as a testimony [of] God making a promise and delivering on it, and me having the persistence to stick with it and a really strong demonstration of faith. And I think my wife’s faith as well. She took a second job and third part-time job to support the family so I could be able to write full time. I think that’s a really great testimony. And it’s important that my wife has been with me throughout the entire process. What has been great is that we’ve been able to celebrate the success together as a couple.
I also think that people need to know that as a believer, that we (Christian screenwriters) are out there and we’re fighting the good fight to be able to tell a variety of types of stories. We just need more votes from the fold. I think by people coming out and supporting this film, it will demonstrate to Hollywood that the very people that live between Los Angeles and New York that have a lot unique stories that they want to see, they’ll support it if it’s made. If they make it, they will come.
And also, I think it (the movie) may demonstrate to people that if God places something in your heart, that it’s important that you see it to fruition and don’t be discouraged, and don’t let people get in the way and talk you out of doing what it is that God has placed you on this earth to do. Just have passion and never lose hope.
So I praise God for [this film]. And may it be a blessing and source of encouragement to others to pursue their dreams as well.