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Posts Tagged ‘Sweet Home Alabama’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published January 1st 2003:

Well, look, here’s the deal: I was staring New Year down the throat, sitting there comfortably on a grand total of 42 cinema visits in the whole of 2002 – an auspicious total for a Hootoo Post contributor, I think you’ll agree. And I was happy with that. But then Mpea and Spea came to stay and we thought we’d go out and see a movie (as opposed to sitting watching Speed for the Nth time). Following the usual tough negotiations we decided to risk going to see a new movie rather than watching Bond or the Towers again.

So we went to see Andy Tennant’s Sweet Home Alabama. It should really be called Reese Witherspoon’s Sweet Home Alabama, despite Tennant’s dubious use of the possessive credit at the top of the movie. This isn’t so much a star vehicle for Witherspoon as something that’s been vacuum-moulded around her. Without her there wouldn’t be a movie (something the bus stop posters for this film appear to have owned up to, inasmuch as they consist solely of a grinning headshot of the star).

Witherspoon plays Melanie Carmichael, an up-and-coming New York fashion designer who manages to be a successful go-getter while remaining a sweet and loveable person (the film earnestly tries to impress this upon you). Her loveability is confirmed as she is proposed to by posh bloke Andrew (Patrick Dempsey), a Kennedyish type whose mother (Candice Bergen) is the mayor (that she is the bad guy and that this movie is near-total fantasy are both confirmed by the fact that we’re expected to believe that she, the elected mayor of New York, is a Democrat). Mel accepts the proposal but then realises she’ll have to return home to her white-trash Alabama roots for the first time in seven years – because she still has a husband (Josh Lucas) back there she has to divorce. But has she completely put her past behind her? Or will the old feelings bubble to the surface?

Well, all together now – of course she hasn’t and of course they will. This much should be obvious, because we are in rom-com chick-flick territory where happy endings all round are marginally more certain than the rising of the sun each new day. The real question with this kind of film is, does it lift the spirits, bring forth gaiety and – most importantly – make you laugh?

Now I’m the first to agree that as a curmudgeonly old git I’m not the intended audience for this kind of film, so the fact I found it only sporadically amusing and not at all emotionally involving may not count for much. But I noticed that even in a packed theatre, no-one else was laughing much for the first hour of this film (emotional involvement is of course trickier to judge). As a romantic comedy this isn’t very romantic or very funny, and as a drama it’s too frothy and predictable to work, too often mistaking sentimentality for sentiment. (Not that there aren’t involving moments – one of the film’s big emotional scenes opens with Witherspoon sobbing at the grave of her dead dog, and true enough it would take a heart of stone not to laugh.)

This kind of culture-clash wedding-preparation schtick was done much more successfully earlier this year in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which worked mainly because the ethnic stereotypes in question were presented vibrantly and affectionately. Sweet Home Alabama presents both urban New York and the wilds of Alabama in an equally colourless way (presumably not wanting to alienate its potential audience in either constituency). The same goes for the two male leads, both of whom appear to have been selected for their minimal charisma and screen presence (presumably so as not to risk upstaging Reese Witherspoon). Quite frankly I couldn’t have cared less as to whether she ended up with the spineless socialite or the faintly-creepy backwoods obsessive, and caught myself thinking back fondly to Colin Firth and Hugh Grant in similar roles in Bridget Jones’ Diary.

A star vehicle needs more than just a star to succeed. Witherspoon does her formidable, spunky, perky best, but the rest of the film is too bland and timid. Yes, there are more laughs once Mel’s fiance arrives in Alabama, but it’s really too little too late – the end result is a film that lacks the warmth and charm it needs to hide how mechanical and obvious and trite it really is. For a much better film along vaguely similar lines, watch Grosse Point Blank instead. Awix nixes this hick pic.

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