Sweet Home Alabama (12A)

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The ViewBirmingham Review

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Review byMatthew Turner18/12/2002

OPENS FRIDAY 20TH
Two out of Five stars
Running time: 108 mins

Average romantic comedy – packed with clichés and not on the level of Legally Blonde but it’s a testament to Witherspoon’s star power that she makes this work.

If the U.S. box office figures are anything to go by, then Reese Witherspoon (Legally Blonde, The Importance of Being Earnest) is well on her way to becoming the next superstar, in the Julia Roberts-$20 million a picture sense.

After all, she’s already stolen all the decent ‘kooky blonde’ roles from under the noses of both Meg Ryan and Alicia ‘Who?’ Silverstone. Indeed, it’s entirely down to her that this otherwise average romantic comedy works at all.

Attempted Bigamy

Reese plays New York fashion designer Melanie Carmichael. It looks as if she has everything – great job, great flat and a well-connected eligible bachelor for a boyfriend (Patrick Dempsey). Naturally, she’s delighted when he proposes – in the middle of Tiffany’s at midnight, no less.

However, there’s a slight problem. Unbeknownst to Dempsey, Melanie is still married to her high school sweetheart in – yes! - Pigeon Creek, Alabama. So she high-tails it down south to get a quickie divorce but, wouldn’t you know it, she starts rediscovering her good ol’ Southern roots and with them, an attraction to her husband (Josh Lucas – last seen as one of Russell Crowe’s college friends in A Beautiful Mind).

Cliché Ridden Conservatism

On the surface, Sweet Home Alabama seems straight from The Big Book Of Romantic Comedy Clichés. It also reeks of conservatism and unashamedly romanticises the South as a place of traditional homespun wisdom and family values, apparently without irony. (It’s also an exceptionally white area of Alabama, oddly enough). Oh, and they really over-play that title song.

Having said that, it isn’t afraid to take a few risks either. Chief among these is the fact that it makes Melanie a particularly unlikeable character – in an early scene she gets drunk in a bar at home and is extremely rude and obnoxious to everyone, to the point of outing her best friend (though this scene doesn’t ring true).

It also hints at a past incident where she blew up a building – in other words, she’s not the perfect, adorable creature we’ve come to expect from these things. However, Witherspoon manages to pull these scenes off and still retain our sympathy - she even manages to convince during a scene in which she’s tearing up while talking at the graveside of her dead dog, which is no mean feat.

Helpful Corpses

There are some nice touches, too – particularly the scene where Melanie searches for her father (Fred Ward, currently cornering the market in Father To The Star roles after this and Enough) among the ‘corpses’ of a Civil War re-enactment, with the dead rising to point in his direction. Similarly Lucas has an unconventional rough-edged charm that serves his character well.

In the end, this is something of a mixed bag. On the one hand it’s difficult not to feel patronised by the film’s central message, plus it resorts to that irritating rom-com cliché of having one of the male leads ‘step down’ in favour of the other. And on the other hand, Witherspoon is so charming that she makes it all work, nonsense though it undoubtedly is. In short, it’s watchable but instantly forgettable and doesn’t bear thinking about too closely.

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Sweet Home Alabama (12A)
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Content updated: 16/12/2017 18:47

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