Sunday 30 January 2022

Movie Review: Sweet Home Alabama (2002)

A romantic comedy, Sweet Home Alabama celebrates cultural differences but never overcomes a distinctly unlikeable protagonist.

In New York City, Melanie Carmichael (Reese Witherspoon) is carving a name for herself as a fashion designer, and after a successful show is designated the next big industry talent. Her love life is also thriving and she accepts a marriage proposal from Andrew Hennings (Patrick Dempsey), a most eligible bachelor, successful businessman, and the son of New York's Mayor Kate Hennings (Candice Bergen). Andrew ignores his mother's politically driven concerns about Melanie's southern roots.

In the meantime Melanie rushes back to her humble small Alabama hometown to look after unfinished business. She is technically still married to Jake Perry (Josh Lucas), her soulmate since childhood before she abandoned him and ran off to the big city seven years ago. Now Jake still refuses to sign the divorce papers, forcing Melanie to prolong her stay. She reconnects with her parents Earl and Pearl (Fred Ward and Mary Kay Place) and confronts her questionable past actions. But her life becomes even more complicated when first the media then Andrew chase her to Alabama.

Despite a valiant effort by Reese Witherspoon, Sweet Home Alabama crashes against a fairly despicable central character. Melanie abandons her husband, adopts a fake identity to cover up her actual hometown, accepts a marriage proposal while still married, and once back among her childhood friends, proceeds to degrade them. And when Jake does sign the divorce papers, she still fumbles the transaction and humiliates others.

Director Andy Tennant and writer C. Jay Cox are either hoping no one notices, or else believe Melanie's actions are somehow justified and she can undergo a miraculous transformation to a good person worth caring about. It's a nice try, but Andrew and Jake as the two men in her life should both aim higher, and Melanie most deserves to be on her own, at least for a while.

This being a romantic comedy, the outcome is predetermined from the opening scene of Melanie and Jake as children witnessing lightning striking twice on the same spot of beach. To consume 109 minutes and actually arrive at the required ending, Tennant does manage to salute southern culture with a combination of affection and satire, although the frequently expressed local views on the Civil War fall somewhere between insensitive and crass.

Whenever a boost is needed on the soundtrack, Lynyrd Skynyrd's title song is cranked up at whatever event the characters happen to be attending. The movie rolls into a distasteful mess, but at least one song rocks.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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