October 15, 2002 -- "Sweet Home Alabama" is a romantic comedy that starts out great, but runs out of gas near the end. The bulk of the story is good enough, however, and quality of the actors is high enough, to make this film worth seeing.
Reese Witherspoon ("Legally Blonde") stars as Melanie Carmichael, an up-and-coming New York fashion designer, who is all set to marry the handsome Andrew Hennings (played by Patrick Dempsey of "Scream 3"). Hennings is the son of the mayor of New York City, the elitist Kate Hennings (played by Candice Bergen of "Miss Congeniality"). Only one thing stands in the way of Melanie's marriage plans: she is married to Jake Perry (played by Josh Lucas of "A Beautiful Mind"), who lives in Alabama. She has been trying to get a divorce from him, but he won't sign the divorce papers. She decides to go to Alabama to confront him.Going to Alabama is difficult for Melanie because she has tried hard to bury her past. She uses neither her married name of Perry, nor her family name of Smooter. She has fabricated a romantic past history for herself which does not include the mobile home she grew up in. Returning to her home town, Melanie finds that she can't escape her past as easily as she had hoped. The first part of the story works really well as Melanie gets into all kinds of embarrassing situations. Her husband continues to refuse to give Melanie the divorce she wants. She decides to make life rough for him. She becomes so shrewish, you start to wonder why he keeps hanging on.
The whole key to this kind of story is withholding the resolution until the end. The plot devices used to withhold the resolution of the conflict keep getting more unbelievable as we get closer to the end of the story. Finally we get into the realm of what critic Roger Ebert calls the "idiot plot," that is, if everyone in the story weren't an idiot it wouldn't work. This isn't quite an idiot plot, but it is close. The characters have to do a lot of out-of-character stuff to keep the story afloat, especially in the last half of the film. The plot has Melanie treating the men in her life so ruthlessly that she doesn't seem worth all this trouble at the end of the film, even if she is beautiful and talented. Probably the best performance in the film goes to Candice Bergen. She is one of those characters you love to hate. A couple of actors from the all-time overlooked actors list do great jobs in supporting roles, Mary Kay Place ("Girl, Interrupted") and Fred Ward ("The Player") are great as Melanie's eccentric parents, Pearl and Earl Smooter. Witherspoon and Lucas are good as the romantic leads.
The film benefits from spunky country music on the soundtrack, including the title song. There is one good version (not by the original group) of the title song during a line dancing scene in the film and a wimpy version of the same song over the credits at the end. The soundtrack includes songs by Ryan Adams, Sheryl Crow and Dolly Parton. This film rates a C+.
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