Sweet Home Alabama

The most interesting thing about Sweet Home Alabama is not the formulaic story or near-condescending portrayal of the South, but the rise of Reese Witherspoon as one of America's more popular actresses. Witherspoon (The Importance of Being Earnest, Legally Blonde) had been around a relatively short time, but her value has skyrocketed with her last few films. She seems to carefully pick her roles, focusing on traits like plucky and cute; audience favorites. Sweet Home Alabama is like another half step forward. It is so predictable that one could set a watch to it, and has an odd mean streak that pervades the movie. Witherspoon is Melanie Carmichael, and up-and-coming fashion designer with roots in the South. She hates her roots, and this hate really shines through. Sure, the movie has to have her act like this so that when she inevitably begins to change her mind there is a noticeable change, but this movie goes a little too far.

When the Andrew (Patrick Dempsey, Scream 3, Denial), the son of New York's mayor, proposes to Melanie, the only thing she needs to take care of is a divorce from her husband Jake (Josh Lucas, A Beautiful Mind, Session 9). Because of circumstances that slowly reveal themselves over the course of the story (including Melanie's apparent vitriolic hatred for all things Southern), she left Alabama and went to New York to reinvent herself. For reasons unknown to her (again revealed later), Jake was never willing to sign the divorce papers. His claims are pretty flimsy; that she lost sight of who she really is. Even worse for Melanie is that she embellished her past to Andrew and everybody else in New York. They believe she grew up on a vast plantation, when in actuality, she had a middle to lower class youth in a small house. Her trip to Alabama is primarily to get a divorce, and she's none too happy to be there. This comes out in the way she talks to and treats all of her old friends. But, guess what; the more time she spends there, the more she realizes how much she missed, and her demeanor begins to change.

Since this is a romantic comedy, Andrew eventually arrives, and more hijinks ensue. Nothing in the script by Douglas J. Elboch (Party at Sam's) and C. Jay Cox (The Thing in Bob's Garage) never does anything to differentiate itself from any other romantic comedy. They even stretch out the story a little longer than they should, which ends up making things worse. Everything wallows around in a state of blah, except for the colorful cast of Southerners. Sweet Home Alabama is one of those movies that is as simple as New York = Good, South = bad and dumb. It plays on these old hick stereotypes for laughs so much that when director Andy Tennant (Anna and the King, Ever After) wants to show that these people are good, it's hard to get over the large effort to mock them in the first half. Weird characters are always a hallmark in these movies, but there is a line between writing quirky characters and making fun of them at their expense. That may be funny, but not in this kind of movie. As perky as Witherspoon is, it isn't quite enough to overcome the mean-spiritedness of the entire affair. The same goes for the men. Dempsey has no real character, and Lucas is a little too laid back. And what the heck is up with the MPAA? More and more PG-13 movies these days have more naughty naughty language than they should.

Haro Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 49 minutes, Rated PG-13 for some language/sexual references.

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