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Sweet Home Alabama (PG-13)
Touchstone Pictures
Official Site
Director: Andy Tennant
Producers: Neal H. Moritz, Stokely Chaffin
Written by: C. Jay Cox
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Josh Lucas, Patrick Dempsey, Fred Ward, Mary Kay Place, Jean Smart, Candice Bergen

Rating: out of 5

In real life, there’s not much that’s funny about falling in love. It’s intense, inconvenient, and often, downright painful. Maybe that’s why the lives and loves depicted in romantic comedies seem to exist somewhere around the second star to the right and straight on ’til morning. Only on film can one find the sorts of folks who are so completely out of touch with their feelings—and who, apparently, have come to sexual maturity without ever having seen a romantic comedy—that they can’t see what’s all too evident to everyone around them.

There’s a way to deal with this sort of patently unbelievable material. Rent classics such as Hitchcock’s Mr. And Mrs. Smith; Howard HawksHis Girl Friday, Bringing Up Baby, or Ball Of Fire; Preston SturgesPalm Beach Story; or even Fred and Ginger in Shall We Dance to see how it’s done. Unfortunately for actors, the masters of this lighter-than-air genre are dead. Unfortunately for audiences, Hollywood didn’t get the word, so it keeps bringing this drivel back from beyond the grave.

Melanie Carmichael (Witherspoon) is a fashion designer who’s about to hit it big in NYC. (Her clothes are really atrocious, nothing like the Audrey Hepburn elegance suggested by the movie’s poster, but that’s a whole other review.) She’s also dating the Andrew, a nice guy (Dempsey) who happens to look quite a bit like John F. Kennedy Jr. and who also happens to be the mayor’s (Bergen) son. This Andrew is also no slouch at romance, arranging up a truly inspired setting to ask for Melanie’s hand in marriage. Like, who could say no at Tiffany’s? One thing, though. There’s the pesky issue of the hometown sweetheart whom she married then abandoned in Pigeon Creek, Alabama seven years ago. Melanie needs a D-I-V-O-R-C-E. To get it, she has to journey back to a place and a past she’s renounced, and a spouse who’s none too eager to sever the connection.

There can be no doubt about this story’s ending, so it’s best to turn our attention to other aspects of Sweet Home Alabama. Though it was filmed in Georgia and dialects were studied, we nevertheless get a pretty interesting variety of Southern accents. Witherspoon’s own accent is pretty inconsistent, which is weird since she’s from Tennessee. Here’s a plot hole so difficult to get my mind around that it stopped me dead in my tracks, leaving me unable to progress with the rest of the story for a while. For her profile in a prestigious national publication, Melanie appropriates the name and family history of the Southern aristocrats one town over from Pigeon Creek. It’s just inconceivable, in this information age, that she could get away with this for two minutes. Red-meat-rending journalists, not to mention most of us, could log onto the Internet and have the goods on her before she could turn around.

Witherspoon is usually a hoot, but here she gives way to stereotypical Southern volatility. Plus, her character is so irretrievably self-centered and immature that her stupid predicament arouses no goodwill or sympathy whatsoever. She’s so ashamed of her hometown, her trailer-dwelling parents (Place and Ward), and her roots that she deserves neither Andrew, a nice guy and a real class act, nor Jake (Lucas), her soon-to-be ex. Lucas, who looks sort of like a cross between a young Kevin Costner and Matthew McConnaughey, wears amusement well. That’s fortunate, because he isn’t given much more to do than stand around grinning twinkly grins and looking good. The most memorable performances belong to Fred Ward, as Melanie’s Confederate-re-enacting, commonsensical dad, and a very well-trained bloodhound.

There’s also a lot of aw-shucks country folk stuff to contrast with the sophisticated New York lifestyle Melanie has adopted. These boilerplate scenes are tiresome, but they do set up some marvelously deadpan moments for the great Candace Bergen. And naturally, we get to hear “Sweet Home Alabama,” though not the Lynyrd Skynyrd performance. Nothing about this movie suggests that you need to see it on the big screen.

—Roxanne Bogucka


hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

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Wait for video rental.

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