eese Witherspoon's "Sweet Home Alabama" is a
highly predictable Romantic Comedy that, surprisingly, has a bite. The premise
is relatively simple, and the movie moves through all the required plot points
necessary to lead to the inevitable ending. And yet, the movie has a number of
unexpected twists courtesy of a smooth screenplay by C. Jay Cox that elevates
"Alabama" beyond the standard Romantic Comedy.
Reese Witherspoon ("Legally
Blonde") stars as Melanie, a New York fashion designer who, in a
previous life, was from a small town in Alabama where she married her childhood
sweetheart Jake (Josh Lucas) right after high school. Now successful and engaged
to the handsome, debonair, and politically ambitious Andrew (Patrick Dempsey),
Melanie has to return home and convince Jake to sign the divorce papers. You
see, Jake has never stopped loving Melanie, and although Melanie left him 7
years ago for New York, he still refuses to sign the divorce papers in hopes of
a possible reconciliation.
By now you should know that Melanie's return to Alabama
will result in Fist Out of Water comedy, as her New Yorker has to readjust to
the Down Home Comfort of the South. Also, you can easily predict that, by
movie's end, Melanie will have decided that Jake has always been the man for
her, and dumps Andrew at the alter to come running back to Jake. If you couldn't
figure out these two elements of "Alabama" just by reading the
premise, then you're either not a movie critic, or you haven't seen nearly
enough movies as a common fan.
Despite its predictability, "Sweet Home Alabama"
benefits from Witherspoon's likeable performance. Even when she goes off the
deep end and insults everyone and everything around her, Witherspoon is such an
engaging actor that it's hard to completely hate her. Melanie's return to
Alabama, and the Culture Clash that results, provides much of the movie's
comedy. "Alabama" has no real laugh out loud moments, but there are a
number of scenes that makes one smile, and that's enough.
"Alabama" also works as a Romantic Comedy, mostly
due to Witherspoon's lively chemistry with the rugged and handsome Jake. Josh
Lucas ("Session 9")
brings just the right amount of charm and tough guy toughness to the role of
Jake, and it's easy to see that Jake desperately still loves Melanie. We also
feel for the tough guy when he gets down on himself for not being "good
enough" for her. You see, after Melanie left him 7 years ago, Jake has gone
on a quest to make "something" of himself so he can deserve her love
again. Lucas and Witherspoon's chemistry is terrific from beginning to end.
The screenplay is also commendable for not turning Patrick
Dempsey, as "the other man", into a despicable douche bag. In fact,
Dempsey's Andrew is actually very likeable, and the kind of man we could see
Witherspoon's Melanie marrying. The point is, we the audience wouldn't be
completely ticked off if Melanie had married Andrew and not Jake. The guy just
isn't all that bad.
Movies like "Alabama," with its emphasis on
Culture Clash for comedy's sake, requires a good supporting cast to carry the
day. Fred Ward shows up as Melanie's Civil War obsessed father; and Ethan Embry
provides a nice counterbalance to all the Southern air as Bobby Ray, a closeted
gay. Candice Bergen has an elongated cameo as Andrew's mother, New York City's
stuffy mayor. Bergen has the villain role, but it's not much of one since she
doesn't actually try to sabotage the wedding; beyond actively trying to convince
her son not to marry Melanie, that is.
"Sweet Home Alabama" is everything you would
expect in a Romantic Comedy, but with a little bit more of things you wouldn't
expect. The filmmakers know what they're doing, and give us all the prerequisite
moments necessary to move the plot to its inevitable conclusion. None of this
stops "Alabama" from being vastly entertaining, funny, and romantic at
the same time.