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:
some historical stains, people who live south of the Mason-Dixon
should be proud of their heritage.
have disgraces of their own.
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
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.
Mary Kay Place
C. Jay Cox
PG-13 - Parents
Some material may
be inappropriate for
children under 13.