Film Reviews: Wednesday, September 26, 2002
Sweet Home Alabama
Starring Reese Witherspoon and Josh Lucas. Directed by Andy Tennant. Written by C. Jay Cox. Rated PG-13.
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
I Wish I Was in Dixie

The South fails to rise again in the too-cute Sweet Home Alabama.

By KRISTIAN LIN

Sweet Home Alabama is, of course, named after the Lynyrd Skynyrd song, and this movie’s just as serious about celebrating the South as the song is. It pits the glamour of city life against down-home small-town virtues, and there’s never any suspense as to which one will win out. It tries to plug into the disconnect often felt by small-towners who return to their old haunts after making it in the big city, but it isn’t balanced enough to pull that off.

Reese Witherspoon, a proper Southern belle who has made it in the big city, probably figured herself a natural choice to star in this comedy. She plays Melanie Carmichael, a rising star among New York City fashion designers, who has just landed a marriage proposal from the mayor’s most eligible bachelor of a son (Patrick Dempsey, made up to look like John Kennedy Jr.). That’s what brings her back to her hometown, a tiny backwoods community called Pigeon Creek. Her New York friends are not only ignorant of her humble origins — she’s told them she’s from old money down South — but they also don’t know she has a husband (Josh Lucas) who has refused for years to give her a divorce. She’s bent on getting him to sign the paperwork now, but returning to her familiar surroundings confuses her as to what she wants out of life.

The movie gets off to a good start, but it’s in too much of a hurry to leave New York. It should have stayed there a bit longer and shown us what kind of life Melanie has made for herself. Instead, soon after she gets to Alabama, it droops considerably and never re-establishes its rhythm, despite some amusing gags like the one where she wanders into a Civil War re-enactment dressed in haute couture fashion, looking for her dad amid the “dead” soldiers. The movie strains for farce in a subplot that has Melanie trying to keep her Pigeon Creek connections secret from her Manhattan friends and the press, but director Andy Tennant isn’t nimble enough. The love triangle doesn’t work, either — neither Dempsey nor the slightly more colorful Lucas gets anything going with Witherspoon. The only supporting actor who emerges with any distinction is Ethan Embry, radiating a charming non-stereotypical sweetness in the gay best friend role.

I’m starting to think I liked Reese Witherspoon better before she became a big Hollywood star. She has wide eyes and high cheekbones, and even when she plays intelligent characters, she always projects a certain obliviousness to the effect that she has on other people. In her previous films, she’s been able to conceal surprising depths beneath her demure exterior, whether it’s insatiable ambition (Election), sexual assertiveness (Pleasantville), flaky opinions (The Importance of Being Earnest), or plain old trashiness (Freeway). However, both this movie and Legally Blonde take her at face value and render her much less interesting. t’s easy to understand why she’d want to do something like Sweet Home Alabama, but she has better things to do.


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