Sweet Home Alabama
review by Dan Lybarger, 27 September 2002

When it was released in 1974, "Sweet Home Alabama" was more than a catchy tune. It was a feisty, eloquent way for Southerners to let the world know:

  • Despite some historical stains, people who live south of the Mason-Dixon should be proud of their heritage.
  • Northerners have disgraces of their own.
  • Southerners, regardless of ethnicity, can kick out the jams.

Even Canadian Neil Young, whose vitriolic 1971 tune, "Southern Man", is lambasted by the Lynyrd Skynyrd song, has publicly admitted that the band, and their rebuttal, were great.

The same cannot be said for either Jewel Kilcher's languid cover or the movie that supports it. The faux folkie drones through the song like she's reciting a poem she doesn't like. Similarly, Sweet Home Alabama manages to perpetuate some annoying stereotypes about Dixie residents and lacks enough outrageousness to capture local quirks or to really entertain 

It also squanders the considerable talent of real-life Southern girl Reese Witherspoon (she's a Nashville native). In this outing, she's a transplanted Alabama fashion designer named Melanie Carmichael who has managed to flower in New York. Her first major show is a hit, and the Mayor's amiable son, Andrew (Patrick Dempsey), has just asked her to marry him. She can't accept because she's failed to get a long-desired divorce from her previous husband, Jake (Josh Lucas). Despite seven years of separation and their inability to complete a single sentence after starting a yelling match, they've never filled out the paperwork for a divorce, and Jake seems to be ignoring her requests simply to spite her. Despite their willingness to conduct  all of their quarrels at full volume, Melanie and Jake's battle of wills is actually rather dully played out:  the most she does to corner and coerce him is to redecorate the house.

What follows isn't much fun either –the situation and characters are grafted from previous movies or sitcoms. Her parents (Fred Ward and Mary Kay Place) are merely recycled white-trash stereotypes without enough personality to stand on their own. Her father's sole accomplishment appears to revolve around Civil War reenactments, and Mom's constant pressuring led Melanie to take beauty contests a little too close to heart. Neither of the capable performers can do much to make the characters likable or even interesting. C. Jay Cox's screenplay also includes the requisite token gay character and equally unimaginative city folk. Candace Bergen is wasted as New York's shrewish, calculating mayor.

While Cox and director Andy Tennant manage to bungle the local-color angle and can't even seem to come up with interesting protagonists. In Legally Blonde, Witherspoon was downright loveable because her Elle Woods, while thoroughly ditzy, was anything but stupid. Elle's obsession with fashion was exceeded only by her concern for her friends so liking her was easy. On the other hand, Melanie's past betrayals don't endear her, and the other characters aren't endearing or real enough to make viewers care about their eventual reconciliation. It doesn't help that Cox and Tennant give Witherspoon little to do but wear flattering outfits. The central romantic triangle isn't much to leave home for, either. Melanie's dilemma is to decide which handsome amiably bland suitor she should embrace. Neither Lucas or Dempsey projects enough personality to make the battle interesting.

Tennant's last two movies Ever After and Anna and the King at least tried to bring fresh spins on old tales. This time around he plays it so safely that that Sweet Home Alabama is practically antiseptic. It's a safe bet that the gutsy Lynyrd Skynyrd, particularly the outspoken and now deceased singer Ronnie Van Zant, would not have approved.

Directed by:
Andy Tennant

Reese Witherspoon
Josh Lucas
Patrick Dempsey
Candice Bergen
Mary Kay Place
Fred Ward
Jean Smart
Ethan Embry
Melanie Lynskey

Written by:
C. Jay Cox

PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may
be inappropriate for
children under 13.







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