This is a film made from a low-budget script turned into a medium to high
budget movie by virtue of its high priced casting. Had it not been ideally
suited to the sweet personality of its star it might well have been made with
unknowns for $3 million. After all, there's nothing of scope here, no
effects, no explosions, no big crowds. It's an intimate storyline that
depends for its success on the character and believability of the roles. In
that aspect, it's thin material, but it has a not-so-secret weapon.
That is, of course, the irrepressible personality of Reese Witherspoon, and
therein lies a satisfying story in itself. We've seen many a child actor
flame up and die out by the time they're in their teens. Maybe it's because
Witherspoon came on the scene so emphatically at age 14 that she could
sustain her natural gifts into adulthood. In any case, that's when we became
aware of her, in Robert Mulligan's "The Man in the Moon" and we've been
interested in the blossoming of that little girl ever since. She then went
on to make "Pleasantville" (1998), "Election" (1999) and the smash that put
her on in the A list for casting, "Legally Blonde" (2001). But, now she's 26. Let's put it this
way: for the first time in any of her films, the child actress is gone. This
lady in this film is all woman.
You can't ever say a talent is destined for stardom; there are too many
variables and vagaries in Hollywood for such predictions. But, if ever there
were indications of an outsize talent and a personality to challenge Julia
Roberts', it's this little charmer. She invests "Sweet Home Alabama" with
her natural verve and spunky comedic timing.
Some have said that she makes it more entertaining than it has any right to
Melanie Carmichael, nee Melanie Smooter, aka Melanie Perry (Witherspoon) is a
small town girl convinced she has the talent to make it as a fashion designer
in New York City. Her budding career is not only taking off, she's dating
the mayor's son Andrew Hemmings (Patrick Dempsey) who seems as certain as
anyone except his mother, mayor Kate (Candice Bergen) that she is the girl of
his dreams. Living up to his high societal standards, he stages a proposal
that is the ultimate in high concept: late at night, at Tiffany's, and
gives her any choice of ring in the place. Please. I love it. Don't we
all? Well mom, the mayor, for one doesn't. Melanie doesn't look like the
kind of girl who's good enough for her family.
Well, we wouldn't have a story without some disagreements, so Melanie,
seemingly in her right mind, accepts the overwhelming proposal. She just
neglects to tell Andrew she already has a husband back home in Pigeon Creek,
Melanie jets to her hometown to set that right and obtain the divorce that
hubby Jake Perry (Josh Lucas) has been holding back from her for the past
eight or so years. She's disgusted with him, his apparently ambitionless
ways, and the rest of the town of folksy neighbors. She's been in the big
city too long to see any of this as anything but retarded. Well, not her
folks, mind. She still loves mom and pop, Pearl and Earl Smooter (Mary Kay
Place and Fred Ward), but there are any number of lessons awaiting her
superficial comparisons and therein lies the development of Melanie which
includes an appreciation for what she left behind.
Like we said, this is low-budget fare, quite well meaning, a lesson in life,
the good person coming to her senses and avoiding a biiig mistake, winning
out, a timeless formula. Does Witherspoon conquer the simplicity of the plot
with her saucy, intelligent energies? It's a boxoffice smash ($85 mil
domestic at the 3-week point according to a Daily Variety report), but on the
deeper question it's possible it'll do more to establish her star power than
anything she could do to improve the depth of the yarn. You won't be going
to see Anna Karenina.
Nice tracks on the album with a convincing yodeling number by Sheryl Crow, a
square-dance stomper from Dolly Parton, a rock piece by Jewel, and others.
~~ The Filmiliar Cineaste