With the huge success of 2001's sleeper hit "Legally Blonde," the
immensely charming Reese Witherspoon (who has been steadily working
since 1991) finally gained the clout and recognition she deserved.
Indeed, she is the sole reason for why "Sweet Home Alabama," directed
by Andy Tennant (1999's "Anna and the King"), has been made. Neither
the hackneyed screenplay (by C. Jay Cox) nor its stale onscreen delivery
offer evidence of any other reasonable explanation.
Melanie Carmichael (Reese Witherspoon) is a New York City fashion
designer on the rise who gets a fairytale proposal at Tiffany's by
wealthy boyfriend Andrew (Patrick Dempsey), the nice guy son of the
city's snooty mayor (Candice Bergen). In order to get married, however,
Melanie finds herself traveling back for the first time in eight years
to her backwater hometown in Alabama to get divorce papers finally
signed by ex Jake (Josh Lucas). At first, returning to her small town
past and old friends seem like a nightmare, but before long Melanie
is discovering that, when she left Alabama, she lost some of her true
childhood spirit in the process. Reacquainting herself with old flame
Jake only confuses matters more, as it becomes apparent Melanie and
Jake still very much love each other.
As far as Hollywood-produced romantic comedies are concerned, "Sweet
Home Alabama" is just about as banal as they come. The film isn't
terrible, and it isn't an outright embarrassment, but it is conventional
and unextraordinary in the worst ways. What likability and understanding
Andrew possesses is only diminished by his cartoonishly nasty mother,
and so the movie loses what suspense there might have been concerning
which suitor Melanie ends up choosing, and is bogged down in thorough predictability.
Reese Witherspoon has the ability to brighten up any movie she appears
in, but even she can't save the bland writing she and the bright ensemble
have to work with. For a motion picture that supposedly wants the
viewer to embrace the innocent, small town mentality along with Melanie,
the Alabama locals are painted as stereotypical, paper-thin caricatures.
And, unfortunately, when screenwriter C. Jay Cox tries to stray from
this course (as he does with the town's easygoing reaction to a gay
character's uncloseting), it comes off as pat and unbelievable. Likewise,
the central romance between Melanie and Jake is not offered near enough
screen time or interest to be even passingly effective.
As Jake, Josh Lucas (2001's "A Beautiful Mind") is good-looking and
charismatic enough to understand why Melanie still has feeling for
him, despite not having much to work with, besides. As her New York
fiance Andrew, Patrick Dempsey (2000's "Scream 3") is passable, yet
dull. In slim supporting roles from a group of standout actors, the
invaluable Mary Kay Place (2001's "My First Mister") and Fred Ward
(2002's "Enough") play Melanie's set-in-their-ways parents; Ethan
Embry (1998's "Can't Hardly Wait") and Melanie Lynskey (2000's "Coyote
Ugly") are Melanie's old school chums, Bobby Ray and Lurlynn; and
Jean Smart (2000's "The Kid") is Jake's bartending mother. As Andrew's
mayor mom, Candice Bergen (2000's "Miss Congeniality") is hideous,
and that's not just referring to the stuck-up character she has to play.
The crowd-pleasing theatrical trailer for "Sweet Home Alabama" seemed
to ensure a big, funny, and romantic entertainment that put Reese
Witherspoon in the forefront, where she belongs. The finished product,
however, only got the last part right. "Sweet Home Alabama" has but
a handful of laughs, and the movie is something of a chore to sit
through. There simply isn't enough going on in the minds of these
simpleton characters, let alone in the lugubrious plotting they're
stuck in, to care about any of it.
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman