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Sweet Home Alabama (2002)
Reviewed 2002-10-12: What could be sweeter that Reese Whitherspoon? We loved her in Legally Blonde (2001), Election (1999), and Pleasantville (1998), right? She's pretty, non-threatening, and truly a gifted comedic actress. So Sweet Home Alabama is a story we've seen before, but the personality of its lead character, Melanie Carmichael, a.k.a. Melanie Smooter, carries it over the rough spots.
Melanie is an up-and-coming fashion designer in New York -- the alternate life she would have led had things worked out differently in Legally Blonde -- and she engaged to Andrew Hennings (Patrick Dempsey), the rebellious son of New York City Mayor Kate Hennings (Candice Bergen in hilarious "bitch" mode). In fact, rebellious might be an understatement: Andrew seems to do things solely to enrage his mother. But when Melanie accepts his proposal -- where else but in the middle of Tiffany's? -- she has one little loose end to tie up: she's still married to the hunk she left behind, Jake Perry (Josh Lucas). And resolving that issue requires a trip back to her tiny Alabama hometown that she thought was well in her past. She's got to get that divorce document signed!
The principal rough spot in this film, as with all films contrasting the Big City with the Small Town (see my reviews of Doc Hollywood and The Majestic) is that small town people are always portrayed as more "real" than big-city people, who are almost by definition slick, dishonest and lacking in Family Values. That's baloney, of course, as I point out in my review of The Advocate, but it plays pretty well in Sweet Home Alabama, in spite of the shopworn slander. This is helped immensely by some real pros backing up the town hunk, namely, Fred Ward as Melanie's father, Earl Smooter (a Civil War re-enactor), Mary Kay Place as her mother, Pearl Smooter, and Jean Smart as a townie named Stella Kay.
Of course Melanie alienates the whole town on her entrance ("Hi, I'm Melanie Carmichael, Jake's snotty Yankee bitch wife. "). Of course they all forgive her -- that's because small-town people are so real, you see. And of course Melanie ends up marrying the right guy, who turns out to have more going for him than we suspected -- this is all so predictable I don't think I'm spoiling anything -- but not before Whitherspoon decks Bergen ("Why don't you go back to your double-wide and fry something!") in a scene almost worth the price of admission. And the closing lines may not be a reason for every marriage...
... but they're sweet, nonetheless. You'll leave the viewing singing the Lynyrd Skynyrd song from which its title comes.
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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance reviewer.