Sweet Home Alabama
A classic romantic comedy going down the unusual road of missing out the romance and the comedy.
Reese Witherspoon is amongst the hottest properties in Hollywood right now, riding high in the box office stakes - on its opening weekend in the US, Sweet Home Alabama took more than $35M. Quite how it did this, though, and continued to rake in the money, is a genuine mystery. Witherspoon is a talented actress with a varied range, able to play dramatic (American Psycho, Cruel Intentions) and comedic (Legally Blonde) roles with equal aplomb, yet even she cannot save this feeble effort from Anna and the King director Andy Tennant.
The film begins on an Alabama beach, with two children pledging their everlasting love for each other, and then kissing each other. Now, perhaps they do things differently in the American South, but these children seem far too young for such statements of emotion, and such adult ways of expressing it. As these vows are made, a frankly fake-looking storm plays out its own drama in the background. Clearly feeling left-out, the storm decides to interject on proceedings, and a bolt of lightning strikes the sand near where the children stand, creating a piece of glass that the children recover and take home. This imagery is about as subtle as a cruise missile, and we just know that we're going to see this gnarled piece of fused silica again.
Whipping forward in time, we then see the little girl all grown-up, as New York fashion designer, and 'next big thing', Melanie Carmichael, as she prepares for the most important show of her life (not wanting to mislead the audience, Tennant gets his clichés started early). Unsurprisingly, this goes well, and our heroine goes off to meet her fiancé, Andrew Hennings (Patrick Dempsey), the son of the mayor of New York, at a clandestine location. This turns out to be the store of world-famous jeweler Tiffany & Co., where the mayor's son, whether through political influence or vast wads of cash, has persuaded a full complement of staff to stay late and hide in the dark until Melanie arrives. Upon arrival, Andrew drops to his knee and asks her to marry him. Melanie assents, chooses a ring with a diamond big enough to pay off the national debt of Malawi, and the scene is apparently set for a celebration. Aside, that is, from the small matter of Melanie's first husband, who she hasn't quite gotten around to divorcing yet.
So Melanie makes a trip to the Alabama town where she was raised, as she attempts to persuade her childhood love Jake (yes, the boy from the beach) to accede to a divorce. But Jake's (played, poorly, by Josh Lucas) not having any of it. Despite her 8-year absence from his life, and her repeated requests for a divorce, he still regards their marriage as intact, and Melanie must stay in town while she persuades him that their relationship is over.
Since she's in town, Melanie decides to look up a few old friends (oh, and her parents, with whom she has such a loving relationship that she hasn't seen them for 7 years, though they don't seem to mind her turning up unannounced and staying with them). Despite living in the metropolis for 8 years, it takes only a matter of days for Melanie to turn from New York socialite to small town hick, disclosing the deeply held secrets of her friends along the way. That she has been so horrible to these friends, yet is forgiven almost instantly by them, is yet another of the film's failings - this is not the way people act, and certainly not in the South, where 137 years after the end of the civil war they still refer to anyone north of the Mississippi as 'Damn Yankees'. Talk about bearing a grudge.
The film feels cheap and rushed. With an actress of Witherspoon's talent, this could have been so much more, but she is given little to work with, and you can't help feeling that Sweet Home Alabama is little more than an excuse for Buena Vista to make money on Witherspoon's name. Littered with tired clichés and unforgivable stereotyping - the high-class, New York snobs and the redneck inhabitants of Alabama - Sweet Home fails on every level. For a supposed romantic comedy, it is sorely lacking in either romance or comedy. Indeed, the first moment of true outpouring of affection is at the grave of a dog, and said dog is the object of that affection.
Being acutely aware that, after 30 minutes of the film starting, I hadn't laughed once, I decided to count the number of times I did actually laugh, arriving at a final figure of 23 (I have spurned hyperbole in favour of accuracy here - this is the actual number of times I laughed). Twenty-three laughs equates to one laugh roughly every five minutes. In a comedy, that's simply unforgivable. I've laughed more often at thin air (no, really. But don't worry - I take tablets now, and they help).
Politicians are always fair game for humour, and Candice Bergen's Mayor Katherine Hennings is an obvious target. However, the writer has abandoned cutting political satire in favour of cheap shots, and it just doesn't work. The Mayor herself is a cut and paste mother-in-law character, who thinks that young Melanie isn't good enough for her son, and sets about investigating her. Cue many stunningly un-funny moments where the would-be future Mrs. Hennings tries to cover up the fact that her upbringing as it was is not as she told it to the New York press.
Most of the blame for the film's lack of accomplishment should be apportioned to C. Jay Cox's weak script. Nothing comes as any surprise to the viewer, with all the major developments being telegraphed well before they are seen - anyone watching could easily make a pretty accurate stab at how the film will end. The man behind the megaphone is equally poor - Tennant's direction is aimless, and most of the dialogue struggles under the weight of those all-pervasive clichés.
The cinematography is adequate - the colours are bright and vibrant, but the locations themselves uninspiring. Performances are generally poor all round (though Fred Ward, as Melanie's father, stands out as being considerably less awful than the rest of the film), and Witherspoon struggles to reach the heights she achieved in the vastly superior Legally Blonde. There also seems to be little chemistry between Reese and her two love interests, something which is vital in any successful rom-com.
Put simply, the film is terrible, and is one of the worst examples of the genre. It is chronically unfunny and a shameful waste of Reese Witherspoon's talents. As such, I would urge you not to waste either your time or your money going to see this.
This film contains 0 Combined Goodness Units.
Josh Lucas (Jake Perry)
Fred Ward (Earl Smooter)
Candice Bergen (Mayor Katherine Hennings)