Archive for the ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ Category

137 – Sweet Home Alabama

March 25, 2003

Rich son of big-city mayor proposes to fashion-designer girlfriend, despite his mother’s misgivings about her. The newly betrothed fiancee realizes she has some unfinished business, though, in the form of the redneck hillbilly backwoods husband she left seven years prior.

Melanie Carmichael (Reese Witherspoon) is riding high. Her recent fashion show went off perfectly, and the man of her dreams (Patrick Dempsey) has asked her to marry him. One problem – she needs to get her husband Jake (Josh Lucas) to sign the divorce papers. So she hightails it down to Alabamy, anxious to get the papers signed so she can get on with her life.

Ah, but not so fast. Jake’s not letting her off the hook that easily. Nope, first he calls the cops on her, since she appropriates his spare key and enters his (their) house. When the sheriff discovers they’re still married, though, he holds up his hands and calls it a domestic dispute. Jake won’t sign the papers, he says, because she’s turned into a a high-class, highfalutin, effete snob. Ok, those are my words, not Jakes, but you get the picture. Our little girl has some growing up to do!

Much of the plot has to do with culture clash – Melanie walking down Main Street gabbing on a cell phone, Melanie in a honkytonk bar shootin’ pool while women with babies linger nearby. This is all that Melanie left when she escaped from her tiny hometown seven years ago to make it on her own, and naturally at first she can do nothing more than turn up her nose at everything in the hamlet.

Ah, but of course she’s due for her comeuppance, and that’s where Jake and the rest of the town come in. Someone must be Taught a Lesson, else it wouldn’t be much of a movie. Jake refuses to sign the papers so Melanie can be Taught a Lesson.

A movie like this has to be taken for what it is – a dumb comedy. It doesn’t pretend to be anything fancy or all-important. It’s not self-involved or overly pensive. It’s a simple plot driven by simple characters, buttressed by a traditional soundtrack.

The movie’s buoyed by some appealing performances, but Witherspoon’s isn’t one of them. I’ve often considered Reese Witherspoon to be nothing more than a flavor of the month blonde, because she offers no real nuance to her acting – everything’s broadly done. Her characters in Legally Blonde, Election, and Sweet Home Alabama bear striking similarities. Sure, maybe she’s being typecast, but if that’s the case, perhaps she needs to try something that’ll stretch her talents a little.

No, the best performance is by Josh Lucas as Jake. Lucas’s piercing eyes and laid-back grin serve him well as Jake, whose upbringing and background belie (in the eyes of Melanie, at least) a wealth of intelligence, wisdom, and depth. Lucas is very appealing here, knowing but not omniscient; able to love but stubborn – much like the stereotypical southern man, come to think of it. Lucas doesn’t come off as a typical pretty boy, though, unlike Dempsey as Melanie’s intended. Even so, this is a major improvement over the Patrick Dempsey we’ve seen in the past (Loverboy, Meatballs 3, Run, Mobsters). He’s assured and polished, just not highly developed.

This is a popcorn film that’s aimed at people looking for a few good chuckles. With any culture-clash movie, you’re bound to get some laughs because the viewer is apt to be on one side of the cultural fence or the other and therefore will find something to which he or she can relate. Happily, the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously,as well it shouldn’t, considering the characters are cardboard cutouts and the plot is predictable. This kind of simplistic movie usually works fine, but the abrasiveness of Melanie brings the whole film down a couple of notches.

Sweet Home Alabama: **