Sweet Home Alabama is pure formula. Just about everything about it is a cliche. And yet, there are some redeeming qualities, making this movie almost worth seeing.
Too Many Men
Reese Witherspoon is Melanie Carmichael, an up-and-coming fashion designer. Her friends tease her about her Alabama accent, which seems so out of place in the glamor of the New York fashion scene.
Her latest show is a big hit, and to cap the night, her boyfriend Andrew (Patrick Dempsey, looking like the late JFK Jr.) proposes to her in Tiffany’s, which he’s privately rented for the occasion. “Pick any one you want,” he says, in one of those New York moments open only to the wealthy and powerful.
Mel accepts, but she has to take care of some business back home.
Back in Alabama, where every stereotype is real, we learn all about Melanie’s past. There are many details, but the important one is that she is still legally married to Jake (Josh Lucas). They’ve been separated for years, but Jake never got around to signing the paperwork.
Witherspoon brings a life and an energy to her role, not to mention a believable personality, both in New York and in Alabama. She really could be the travelled character she plays. Witherspoon is on the verge of having the kind of star quality that Julia Roberts showed in Erin Brockovich. Give her a few more pictures to mature and she could be the next Big Thing.
Both of the men in Mel’s life are good looking. Andrew, as I said, looks for all the world like JFK Jr. His character doesn’t have much room to develop, but he’s got humanity and sincerity. As for Jake, he’s got much more screen time, and he has a certain spark that implies some hidden passion. That spark and his young Matthew McConnaughy good looks makes him almost enough to counterbalance the draw of New York City.
A Friendly Disagreement
Perhaps the best thing that I can say about Sweet Home Alabama is that I disagree with where it went. The fact that I disagree says two things about the movie.
Most obviously, it says that, for my money, it’s not very well observed. And here’s a mild spoiler, so stop reading now if Sweet Home Alabama is in your weekend plans. I know people in Melanie’s position. My cousin has lived the same life as Melanie (if on a much smaller scale). I can say that there is no way that someone who felt stifled by a small town, who left and became successful in the world of Fashion, would ever consider going back. The big dilemma — Andew in New York or Jake in Alabama — should never have even come up.
But the fact that I disagree tells me that I accepted the movie at some basic level. I didn’t dismiss it outright, rather, I took it on its own terms and respectfully disagreed. So in that sense, I have to credit the movie for being well made and for making its case. If it were any worse, I wouldn’t have even bothered to disagree, I would have simply written it off.
If you’re inclined to see Sweet Home Alabama, go and enjoy Witherspoon and Lucas in their charismatic roles. Get caught up in her dilemma. Let yourself go and have fun.
But if this movie wasn’t even on your radar, then you might as well skip it.