New films lighten up recession-weary audiences

Wed Jan 28, 2009 3:15pm EST
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By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The slumping U.S. economy meets romantic comedy when "New In Town" opens in movie theaters on Friday as one of several upcoming films about pocketbook issues that may resonate with recession-weary audiences.

"New In Town," released by Lionsgate, stars Renee Zellweger as an executive poised to close a Minnesota factory until she falls in love with a union boss (Harry Connick Jr.) and fights to revive the plant.

Hollywood movies generally are produced more than a year before their release, which can leave filmmakers guessing if their movies will be a perfect fit for the current cultural climate or an odd emotional match for moviegoers.

Whether audiences warm to this wave of recession-minded movies or give them a cold shoulder depends a lot on how closely the stories are linked to moviegoers' personal lives, industry watchers said.

"There's emotional baggage that everyone brings to a movie, and that informs how you see a movie and how it resonates with you," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracking firm Media By Numbers.

In the case of "New In Town," the film's makers say it couldn't be more in touch with daily headlines of job losses and plant closings, but they stress there is a happy ending.

"Not saying that the weight of the economy should be on the shoulders of a romantic comedy, but I think 'Wow how timely,'" said screenwriter Kenneth Rance.

Connick, a singing star who just acts in this film, was hopeful audiences would still laugh at the movie's jokes during a difficult situation. "A lot of light-hearted entertainment pieces are set against the backdrop of something tragic," he said.   Continued...

<p>Kristin Scott Thomas, Isla Fisher and Leslie Bibb in a scene from "Confessions of a Shopaholic". REUTERS/Touchstone Pictures/Handout</p>