SWEET HOME ALABAMA
Director: Andrew Tennant
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Josh Lucas, Patrick Dempsey, Candice Bergen, Fred Ward, Mary Kay Place, Ethan Embry
MPAA Rating: (for some language/sexual references)
Running Time: 1:48
Release Date: 9/27/02
Review by Mark Dujsik
There are certain prejudices about the South that we Yankees have, and Iím sure the folks down there have similar predispositions. Sweet Home Alabama uses them both and gives us stereotypes pretending to be characters. Then, on top of that, it asks us to actually grow feelings for them to the extent that we could care for or despise them. Iíve seen some bad romantic comedies in my day, and Sweet Home Alabama is about as cheerfully unamusing as The Wedding Planner, the movie that originated that description. Despite its formulaic plot, Sweet Home Alabama is really the story of a popular song that had yet to be turned into a movie. Thankfully, screenwriter C. Jay Cox, working from a story idea from Douglas J. Eboch (which probably consisted of something like, "You know that song ĎSweet Home Alabama?í Letís use it as the title of a movie."), recognized this and got it out of the way. Itís just too bad he didnít make it painless along with being simple, predictable, and completely, dullingly ordinary.
The story centers on Melanie Carmichael (Reese Witherspoon), a rapidly up-and-coming fashion designer in New York. Sheís got everything (Iím getting tired of being able to write that to sum up a character). Her business is booming, and her boyfriend is mayor Kate Henningís (Candice Bergen) son Andrew (Patrick Dempsey). Andrewís got a surprise lined up for Melanie, and itís about as romantic as handing her a blank check. He brings her to Tiffanyís when itís closed, proposes to her, and has her pick out whatever ring she wants. She accepts but wants to keep it quiet, and in the first of a series of useless jokes, mayor mom discovers the ring and makes a big deal out of it in front of the media. But the script and I digress. Melanieís got to go home to Alabama to tell her parents and straighten out a few loose ends, but she doesnít want Andrew to come along. You see, Melanie has a bit of a past waiting for her at home, primarily Jake Perry (Josh Lucas), her first and still husband who refuses to give her a divorce.
From the moment Melanie arrives at Jakeís house, we know exactly where this story will go and how it will turn out. The surprising pieces of the plot are like putting two and two together; if something is introduced, it will have some kind of obvious resolution by the end of the movie. The basic structure of the story is as follows: Melanie goes home, meets a bunch of old, wacky friends, gets them all mad at her in one foul swoop (at one useless and particularly cruel point, she randomly and baselessly outs one of her friends in front of a bar full of people (luckily he has the most open-minded friends in Alabama)), and spends the rest of the movie systematically apologizing to them. Thatís formula if Iíve ever seen it. The movie is a series of scenes weíve seen before in one form or another. Thereís even a graveside apology scene, but because both of Melanieís parents need to be alive for the plot, itís for a dog (yes, a dog).
The cast is, well, stuck. Not even the absolutely charming Reese Witherspoon can save this one, and thatís saying a lot. Witherspoon has proven herself a gifted comic actress in Election and last yearís Legally Blonde, but her performance and charm here are largely diminished by the tedium of the material. We want to like Melanie, mostly because of Witherspoon, but her actions are the result of the screenplay, not a fully formed character. Patrick Dempsey does what he can, I guess, but his character has too much of the snobbish, rich-boy attitude to be likable or romantic. He also has the single worst written scene in the movie near the end, but to describe it would give too much away. Josh Lucas makes a bad acting choice as Jake. Heís far too aggressive for too long for him to grow on us.
Sweet Home Alabama is a perfect example of a movie that does as very little as possible, except for one thing. There is some kind of irresponsible, biased political allegory within the subtext, but I donít want to waste any more time on this movie and figure it out. Why bother when the most satisfying scene is the one where the title song plays. It had to happen, and weíre glad itís finally over and done with. Of course, the song plays at the very end, but by this time, the movieís done so much wrong that itís not worth getting upset about.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.