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.
The movie "Confessions of a Shopaholic," which opens on February 13, has an entirely different storyline from the working class comedy of "New In Town."
The film from the Walt Disney Co's Touchstone Pictures stars Isla Fisher as a New Yorker whose addiction to shopping pushes her into debt.
Its release comes after a holiday shopping season ranking as the worst in at least four decades, when many U.S. consumers cut back on all but essential purchases.
But Dergarabedian said even though it could seem an odd fit for the current climate, "Confessions of a Shopaholic" may still give audiences what they want.
It conveys the message that spending has its good and bad side, and in a recession, movies live or die on their ability to offer an escape from everyday troubles, Dergarabedian said.
"'Confessions of a Shopaholic' might let people vicariously live through Isla Fisher," he said.
Thriller "The International" from Sony Corp's Columbia Pictures, also opens on February 13, starring Clive Owen as an investigator and Naomi Watts as a prosecutor who unravel a bankers' conspiracy to finance war and terrorism.
The film's release comes amid public anger at the financial community that precipitated the credit crisis. Director Tom Tykwer has said "The International's" release is well-timed because of that.
But even more than the hit-or-miss match between movies produced awhile back and the current climate, Dergarabedian said films being produced now will reflect the recession.
"You're going to see what's going on now seep into these scripts," he said.
Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Philip Barbara