Sweet Home Alabama (2002) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language and some sexual references
Running Time: 108 min.
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Josh Lucas, Patrick Dempsey, Fred Ward, Mary Kay Place, Candice Bergen, Jean Smart, Ethan Embry, Melanie Lynskey, Dakota Fanning (cameo)
Director: Andy Tennant
Screenplay: C. Jay Cox
Reese Witherspoon (The Importance of Being Earnest, Best Laid Plans) has shown she can carry a weak comedy to success with her last hit film, Legally Blonde, a film that showcased her as a comedic talent entertaining enough to watch regardless of the story or plot. Sweet Home Alabama is a much different form of comedy, requiring Reese to do as much dramatic acting as comedic, and while comedy seems to be her strongest suit, she impresses enough in this film that she should be considered an actress and not just a comedienne. However, Sweet Home Alabama is also a very standard romantic comedy, without much freshness or surprises, and with Reese not being allowed to act cute for most of the running length, she is going to need help to make this old dog hunt. Luckily, help is there in the form of director Andy Tennant (Ever After, Hitch), making a slick piece of easily digestible comedy that will probably please most, glossing over the void of interest in the retread story with likeable characters and good, well-placed music.
Reese plays Melanie Carmichael, an up-and-coming fashion designer who has made something out of herself in New York fashion circles despite growing up in rural Alabama. She becomes engaged to the mayor's son, Andrew (Dempsey, With Honors), who is handsome, successful and romantic. It seems she is just on the verge of having it all, but there's a snag. With the press roaming everywhere to dig up the scoop, it seems that Melanie hasn't gotten her ex-husband to finalize the divorce. Not wanting to ruin the reputation of her fiancé with a scandal or ruin her prestige with her background of poverty, Melanie must travel to see her legal husband face-to-face for his signature on the papers. But hubby Jake (Lucas, A Beautiful Mind) is having more fun making her suffer for leaving him, and refuses to sign, and with the press coming down to investigate, it's going to take a lot of convincing on Melanie's part.
If you're going to properly enjoy Sweet Home Alabama, you're going to have to expect the expected. Just hearing the plotline, you probably can guess how it will all end up, and when it comes to the tug-of-war for Melanie's heart between uppity New York socialites and down-home friendly Alabama, there won't be any doubts who will win the North vs. South battle this time around. The script C. Jay Cox does have some good writing, but it's Douglas J. Eboch's story that is the film's biggest weakness, not because it's bad, but it's the oldest kind of romantic comedy plot. Not to spoil it, but has a romantic comedy ever ended with the girl dumping her boy-next-door childhood love to be with the one whose got it all?
Despite the derivative nature, Sweet Home Alabama has a lot of charm and amiable sweetness. It's a film that people will go see because of Reese Witherspoon, much like we did for Julia Roberts in the Eighties, and along those lines, her fans probably won't be disappointed. It may fall short of movie goodness, but Sweet Home Alabama still delivers the entertainment with professional ease, with the emphasis on "sweet".
©2002 Vince Leo