|SWEET HOME ALABAMA (2002)|
Mary Kay Place
|"The truth is I gave my heart away a long time ago, all of it, and I never really got it back."|
|Time: 107 mins.|
Genre: Romantic Comedy
SWEET HOME ALABAMA is an endearing and occasionally romantic comedy, yet it does nothing to showcase the breadth of Witherspoon's talent. We get much of the same wit, sass and perkiness shown in her first major hit LEGALLY BLOND. At least in BLOND, the plot was somewhat unusual. Here, we're treated to the same basic outline of a hundred other date flicks. Girl falls for great new man only to find herself still attracted to the old one, who gets on her last nerve, but is clearly mister right because "fate" tells her so. This journey would have been somewhat more surprising and engaging if we didn't know from the very first frame where the story was going to go. Clearly, who she ends up marrying is not going to shock anyone out of their seats, but a little suspense would be nice. The lack of it, drags this film down. That and the overabundance of hick humor. Some of it is funny, but most of it has been done before and sheds nothing new on the continued emotional rivalry between the North and the South.
The film opens with southern belle Melanie Carmichael conquering the Big Apple, as the coolest, up-and-coming clothing designer. Not only is she a success in the fashion world, but she's also found the perfect man, Andrew (Dempsey), a young politician (styled like JFK Jr.) who adores her. She's stunned when he proposes to her and is so overwhelmed by the moment that she says yes. There's no woman on the planet who would have turned him down. She has one small matter to take care of before they can get married. She's still hitched to Jake (Lucas), her childhood sweetheart from Alabama, whom she hasn't seen in 8 years. In an effort to keep the matter a secret from her new fiance, she returns home to get her ex to sign the divorce papers. Of course, he continues to refuse, setting off a series of angry arguments, which are supposed to convince us they still have feelings for each other. Can you feel the love? Melanie is forced to stay in town until Jake gives in, causing her to re-examine her past, her reasons for leaving and her feelings for the men in her life. Along the way, she alienates everyone who used to like her because of her snooty attitudes and hidden insecurities.
All this soul-searching is done with wit, humor and a bit of depth, but it's not enough to sell the story. Eight years is far too long a time to believe that she would still have any love left for Jake. If you could stand to be away from him that long, the magic is gone and one long weekend isn't going to change that. Especially, when you already have another alternative. Yes, her reason for wanting a new life had little to do with Jake as a person, but that's water under the bridge. Witherspoon has chemistry with both men and Lucas made Jake more than just a simple-minded country boy, but I just didn't buy her decision. Dempsey provides an attractive package, yet isn't really given much of a chance to be more than that. He seems cast to be the exact opposite of Jake. Smart, ambitious and honest or sweet, fun and honorable. You decide. The main problem with the final third of the film is that she doesn't choose her future. She accepts the only option open to her. Not the strong-willed, independent Melanie we've come to know and love. To make matters worse, she agrees to marry a man she doesn't love just because the one she does want won't have her. Take the high road honey. Take singlehood over a second divorce. She finally does get to follow her heart, but the moment is so outrageous and obvious it loses its' emotional honesty.
She ends up with the perfect life or so we're led to believe. A marriage of her past and present selves, a new blended life. Highly doubtful, but then again this is a movie. Fans of Witherspoon will be amply amused by this performance, which gives her a chance to show some depth, maturity and a real bitchy side. She plays both the dramatic and comic moments well, making Melanie seem almost like someone you'd meet in the real world. The men fill out the love triangle well enough. It's the first major role for Lucas, who acquits himself nicely. Dempsey seems doomed to bit parts, which is such a shame since he has great charisma. I guess it's better to be the runner-up, than not in the game at all. An entertaining, yet forgettable rung on Witherspoon's ladder to A-list success. It's better than a lot of the garbage released lately, but that's not exactly a strong endorsement. If you're not a big fan of Reese, don't bother.