Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Someone please explain Renee Zellweger to me

For some reason, I've always wanted to like Renee Zellweger.

I don't quite understand why. Part of the reason is the fact that while she is a megastar, she doesn't look like a megastar. (In fact, I've always thought that she's downright unattractive.) But I've always felt that this was one of her advantages; there aren't enough ugly actors out there. Do we all have to look like frickin' Beyonce? Most of us don't. I'll take someone a little off-beat looking (like, say, Mercedes Ruehl) over someone attractive who can't act (I'm thinking of you, Catherine Zeta-Jones).

But after a screening last night of New In Town, I've come to the conclusion that Renee Zellweger is also just not a very good actress.

She's been OK in a handful of things. I admit, I liked Bridget Jones's Diary -- and one of the things I liked most was the fact that she put on some weight and went out of her way to look frumpy. And she wasn't bad in Nurse Betty. But otherwise, she has been in one piece of crap after another. (Yes, Chicago was a piece of crap. Great musical -- not a great movie.)

New In Town might have pushed me over the edge, however.
It's a pretty generic Northern Exposure-meets-Norma Rae picture; the idea is that Zellweger plays a high-flying exec who must go to a factory in Minnesota to downsize the place. The "Minnesota nice" that the Coen brothers used to such great effect in Fargo is on full display again here. There's a lot of "you betchas" and "Hiyas." (It was a novelty back in Fargo, but wears really thin here.)

Its real antecedent, however, is Northern Exposure; the urban person lost in the wilderness who eventually discovers that the wilderness is a wonderful place. But while Joel Fleischman was unapologetically cranky and miserable to be stuck in Alaska, he was also interesting. He was a doctor; he was educated; he engaged his fellow townspeople in discussion and debate.

And while certainly Joel was the glue that held that show together, it was also populated by really funny characters; Maurice, the hyper-aggressive astronaut; Chris, the Goethe-quoting DJ; Shelly and Holling and their autumn/spring romance. And, of course, Maggie, the intense sexpot.

New in Town doesn't real improve on Northern Exposure's basic premise. Nor is the dialogue as witty or as interesting. And the secondary characters are simply silly. Zellweger looks like she's just going through the motions and waiting for her paycheck.

Sometimes this is the fault of a shitty script. And, it's true, the script is pretty poor. But Harry Connick, Jr. -- who plays Maggie, to Zellweger's Joel -- is actually not that bad. In fact, he's pretty good. He's got better comic timing than Zellweger does. He's more likable than she is. He might be acting in a crappy movie -- but he does his best to look as if he doesn't think so.

All this made me think: Why is Renee Zellweger a star, exactly?

Somebody please explain this to me.


Oh, and in case it wasn't obvious, you can skip New in Town.

And one more thing: Harry Connick, Jr. is Jewish? WTF?! That's awesome!