Home Again, Naturally

sweethomealabamaposter
CineMaterial

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve been listening to a lot of classic rock lately, and this radio station I hear driving to and from work plays all the good stuff. They also play Lynard Skynard, which of course means “Freebird,” not to mention “Sweet Home Alabama,” which I’ve had in my head for days now. Not that that’s bad, but those songs are earworms (And no offense to anyone who likes Lynard Skynard, but I prefer Led Zeppelin and Kansas).

So I figured, why not review the 2002 movie? It’s kinda the hair of the dog, only not really, and I have the DVD, although I haven’t watched it in years. Here we go…

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Melanie Carmichael (Reese Witherspoon) is an up-and-coming fashion designer in New York. She’s got a great apartment, she’s just had her first show, and she’s dating Andrew Hemmings (Patrick Dempsey), son of New York City mayor Kate Hemmings (Candice Bergen).

Andrew is incredibly romantic. While Melanie is preparing for her show, he’s had her apartment filled with flowers. After the show they have to go to Kate’s fundraiser, but right before that they stop over at Tiffany, which Andrew has rented out just so he can propose. Melanie rapturously accepts as all the clerks pull out trays of Tiffany’s fanciest diamond rings.

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Melanie’s happiness has one fly in the proverbial ointment. Before she can marry Andrew she goes back home to her hometown of Pigeon Creek, Alabama because she needs to take care of some business: She’s already married.

It’s been seven years since Melanie went to New York, and she’s been trying to shake off her background as hard as she can. For one thing, her real last name isn’t Carmichael; it’s Smooter. Melanie was a wild child and a legend around town, who, among other exploits, accidentally blew up the local bank when a cat she’s strapped some dynamite to wanders in.

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Our heroine’s parents live in a double-wide trailer, her mom, Pearl (Mary Kay Place) is a champion at making preserves, and her dad, Earl (Fred Ward) is a Civil War re-enacter. Melanie has barely called them since she’s been in New York, and their relationship is just above estranged. They all warm up pretty quickly, although Pearl can’t get over how thin Melanie is.

Melanie’s husband, Jake Perry (Josh Lucas) is a tougher nut to crack. He and Melanie have known each other since they were little kids and got married right out of high school when Jake was a little drunk. There was a lot that went wrong during the marriage, and Melanie ran off after suffering a miscarriage. Jake is not too happy that Melanie’s come back, but she’s persistent.

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And she trolls. Melanie cleans out their joint bank account and fixes up their house with new appliances and furniture. When Jake comes home from work she pretends to be a good little housewife fixing dinner for her husband. Jake is highly insulted, especially when he finds out that she’s stocked the fridge with light beer.

In spite of herself, Melanie is intrigued by the changes she sees in Jake, and she wonders about the plane he flies out of Pigeon Creek every day. Also in spite of herself, her former life begins to charm her all over again and she learns a few things.

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Meanwhile, back in New York, Kate wonders about who Melanie really is and Andrew just wants to see his fiancee. So do Melanie’s friends who are curious about where she came from. New York and Pigeon Creek just might have to have a meetup and see if they’re not as far apart as they think.

It’s hard to believe this movie is twenty years old. Some things about it are nostalgic and dated, especially the phones and the music, although that’s not bad, and other parts of it are timeless. It got mixed reviews in 2002 but still managed to win fans.

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The problem I’m having is finding a lot to say about the movie even though I liked it and had a good time. It’s got a very in-one-ear-and-out-the-other feel to it.

Alabama‘s cast is terrific, especially Reese Witherspoon, who was fresh off of Legally Blonde when she started shooting Sweet Home Alabama. It was a good safe follow-up, although a movie like Legally Blonde is pretty hard to follow, but on its own, the film has a lot of good points. I like that the movie doesn’t place the blame for Jake and Melanie’s marriage going bad squarely on either character; they both have to admit they had a hand in what broke them up. I also like that the inevitable reconciliation doesn’t involve inserting these characters into cliched romantic situations like candlelit dinners and significant glances across a crowded room.

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Oh no, Sweet Home Alabama has a meetup in a dog cemetery, a dance at the county fair (with the band playing Lynard Skynard, of course) and an eleventh-hour revelation that ends in Melanie delivering a strong right hook to a distinguished but deserving personage. It’s a bit more natural and a bit more satisfying.

On the other hand, the movie is also a wee bit predictable. The idea of a woman (or anyone else) reconnecting with the past she’s run from has been done in various ways before and will be again because it’s a very common tale.

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And the film just isn’t all that funny most of the time. Even though Alabama is supposed to be a rom-com, it’s very light on the “com.” For that matter, it’s pretty light on the “rom,” too, simply because the story needs to build. Well, that and Melanie and Jake are initially too combative to be romantic.

I think the key is to just enjoy Sweet Home Alabama. Don’t expect too much, don’t expect much that’s new, but just let it be what it is. It might not be a great movie, but it’s a pretty good one all the same. I’m glad I pulled it out and watched it, even if the movie’s musical namesake is still in my head. Oh well.

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A new Shamedown is on the way tomorrow. Thanks for reading, all…


Sweet Home Alabama is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.

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