Sweet Home Alabama
USA, 2002. Rated PG-13. 109 minutes.
Reese Witherspoon, Josh Lucas, Patrick Dempsey, Mary Kay Place, Fred Ward,
Candice Bergen, Jean Smart, Ethan Embry, Melanie Lynskey, Rhona Mitra,
Nathan Lee Graham
|Grade: C+||Review by Claudia Smurthwaite|
ove over Julia and Meg -- Reese is in da house!
Following up the successful Legally Blonde, Reese Witherspoon ably inherits the tiara of America's Sweetheart in Sweet Home Alabama. In a part that would have been Meg Ryan's five-to-ten years ago, Witherspoon makes up-and-coming fashion designer Melanie Carmichael her own. Recently engaged to Andrew Hennings (Patrick Dempsey, best known for '80s teen romp Can't Buy Me Love), the son of the mayor of New York (Candice Bergen as Murphy Brown-in-politics), Melanie is a girl who, in order to embrace her future in New York, must face her past, in the form of an old flame (hunky Josh Lucas, A Beautiful Mind and Session 9), in small town Alabama.
If the opening scene doesn't tell you how this film will end, then you haven't seen many romantic comedies. Despite its familiarity, the scene is sweet, and Witherspoon, while maybe not quite on par with her Elle Woods, is engaging. She's spunky without being cloying; and she even has a bit of a mean streak, especially after a few drinks at the local honky tonk. In fact, Melanie, having earned the nickname of "Felony Melanie," has a bit of a history that puts the town folk on edge with her return. More development of this characteristic with a few flashback scenes rather than third-string characters spouting exposition might have rounded out the character and given more insight into why she fled to New York.
The film propagates its share of southern stereotypes: Mom and Dad (Mary Kay Place and Fred Ward) live in a double-wide; Dad is a Civil War reenactor; Melanie's high school friend Lurlynn (Melanie Lynskey of Heavenly Creatures, whom Hollywood has allowed to languish in minor supporting roles) has lots of babies; there's a hound dog on the porch, etc. However, these chestnuts are mostly presented kindly.
This is a fairly standard-issue romantic comedy, and some people might not enjoy this piece of fluff. In the grand canon of romantic comedies, Sweet Home Alabama will probably be remembered as the film whose big box office opening helped raise Witherspoon's asking. While there will likely be brisk video sales, there are no AFI lists in its future.
That being said, Witherspoon and a good supporting cast (Bergen, Place, Ward, and Lucas) elevate Sweet Home Alabama out of made-for-TV land, and might just make you believe that it is possible to find your soul mate when you're ten.
© October 2002 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2002 Touchstone Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
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