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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review
Sweet Home Alabama (2002)
2 Stars

Directed by Andy Tennant
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Josh Lucas, Patrick Dempsey, Mary Kay Place, Fred Ward, Ethan Embry, Candice Bergen, Melanie Lynskey, Jean Smart, Mark Matkevich, Courtney Gains, Dakota Fanning, Thomas Curtis
2002 – 108 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for language and sexual references).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, September 28, 2002.

With the huge success of 2001's sleeper hit "Legally Blonde," the immensely charming Reese Witherspoon (who has been steadily working since 1991) finally gained the clout and recognition she deserved. Indeed, she is the sole reason for why "Sweet Home Alabama," directed by Andy Tennant (1999's "Anna and the King"), has been made. Neither the hackneyed screenplay (by C. Jay Cox) nor its stale onscreen delivery offer evidence of any other reasonable explanation.

Melanie Carmichael (Reese Witherspoon) is a New York City fashion designer on the rise who gets a fairytale proposal at Tiffany's by wealthy boyfriend Andrew (Patrick Dempsey), the nice guy son of the city's snooty mayor (Candice Bergen). In order to get married, however, Melanie finds herself traveling back for the first time in eight years to her backwater hometown in Alabama to get divorce papers finally signed by ex Jake (Josh Lucas). At first, returning to her small town past and old friends seem like a nightmare, but before long Melanie is discovering that, when she left Alabama, she lost some of her true childhood spirit in the process. Reacquainting herself with old flame Jake only confuses matters more, as it becomes apparent Melanie and Jake still very much love each other.

As far as Hollywood-produced romantic comedies are concerned, "Sweet Home Alabama" is just about as banal as they come. The film isn't terrible, and it isn't an outright embarrassment, but it is conventional and unextraordinary in the worst ways. What likability and understanding Andrew possesses is only diminished by his cartoonishly nasty mother, and so the movie loses what suspense there might have been concerning which suitor Melanie ends up choosing, and is bogged down in thorough predictability.

Reese Witherspoon has the ability to brighten up any movie she appears in, but even she can't save the bland writing she and the bright ensemble have to work with. For a motion picture that supposedly wants the viewer to embrace the innocent, small town mentality along with Melanie, the Alabama locals are painted as stereotypical, paper-thin caricatures. And, unfortunately, when screenwriter C. Jay Cox tries to stray from this course (as he does with the town's easygoing reaction to a gay character's uncloseting), it comes off as pat and unbelievable. Likewise, the central romance between Melanie and Jake is not offered near enough screen time or interest to be even passingly effective.

As Jake, Josh Lucas (2001's "A Beautiful Mind") is good-looking and charismatic enough to understand why Melanie still has feeling for him, despite not having much to work with, besides. As her New York fiance Andrew, Patrick Dempsey (2000's "Scream 3") is passable, yet dull. In slim supporting roles from a group of standout actors, the invaluable Mary Kay Place (2001's "My First Mister") and Fred Ward (2002's "Enough") play Melanie's set-in-their-ways parents; Ethan Embry (1998's "Can't Hardly Wait") and Melanie Lynskey (2000's "Coyote Ugly") are Melanie's old school chums, Bobby Ray and Lurlynn; and Jean Smart (2000's "The Kid") is Jake's bartending mother. As Andrew's mayor mom, Candice Bergen (2000's "Miss Congeniality") is hideous, and that's not just referring to the stuck-up character she has to play.

The crowd-pleasing theatrical trailer for "Sweet Home Alabama" seemed to ensure a big, funny, and romantic entertainment that put Reese Witherspoon in the forefront, where she belongs. The finished product, however, only got the last part right. "Sweet Home Alabama" has but a handful of laughs, and the movie is something of a chore to sit through. There simply isn't enough going on in the minds of these simpleton characters, let alone in the lugubrious plotting they're stuck in, to care about any of it.

©2002 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman