Sweet Home Alabama
a film review
November 11, 2002
"Sweet Home Alabama" is the latest movie to star Reese Witherspoon, the young actress whose talent and natural affability have made her an up and coming star. Unfortunately, SHA is terribly formulaic and hopelessly unbelievable. Fortunately, it's making enough money that someone will want to hire Witherspoon again.
The story is essentially this: a New York fashion designer Melanie Carmichael (Reese Witherspoon) becomes engaged to the city's most eligible bachelor (Patrick Dempsey), who looks uncannily like the late JFK, Jr. Melanie's got some skeletons in her closet, though, including Jake (Josh Lucas), the redneck husband she married in high school. As if that weren't enough, Jake has refused Melanie a divorce since she fled Alabama for New York seven years earlier. With a new man and a giant new engagement ring in her life, Melanie races back to Alabama to demand, once and for all, the divorce. Instead, the filmmakers hope you will believe that what she discovers is that you can take the girl out of the South, but you can never take the South out of the girl.
The problem is that the movie is very poorly written. The writers want to make fun of southerners because it's good for easy laughs, but then they don't want to offend the majority of Americans who don't live in New York or Los Angeles by making the stupid buffoons of Melanie's hometown into folksy, family loving eccentrics. At one point more than halfway through the movie, Melanie says "When I'm in New York I'm so happy, but then I come here, and this fits, too." The problem is that up to that point, we never see Melanie do anything but make faces and spit sarcastic remarks at her old friends and family members.
What's missing are flashbacks showing us the way she was before or even showing us the relationship she shared with Jake before she split. Instead, all we see is a short sequence at the beginning of the film showing her and Jake as small kids "in love."
Then at the end when she decides to stay married to Jake and not marry the JFK Jr. guy (c'mon, like you really wondered), we're supposed to feel that she made the right choice. But why? She was clearly happy with the JFK Jr. guy and the movie went all out to make him seem warm, funny, open-minded, etc.
There is also a theme of Confederate pride in this movie that bothered me. Many Americans have clearly bought into the lie that the South seceded from the Union in 1860 for a cause other than the perpetuation of slavery. As a result, it seems quaint and patriotic to parade in a Confederate uniform and chant "The South will rise again!" Imagine asking African-Americans if they wish that the Confederacy had triumphed and I think you'll get my point.
I would like to propose that anyone who has lived all of his or her life in New York, Los Angeles, or another of our nation's fine urban centers be prohibited from writing about small towns and that anyone who has never ventured south of the Mason-Dixon line be prohibited from writing about the South. Follow the adage "write what you know" and crap like Sweet Home Alabama can remain blissfully nonexistent.