A week ago I made a list of My Top Ten Guilty Pleasures. On it, I naturally listed the Ten movies that I thought were technically bad movies… But I still enjoyed watching over and over again. This movie almost made the list but stayed off for two reasons. One, I wanted to save it for Marriage Month and more importantly… I think that this is a genuinely great movie. While it can certainly fit into the category of cheesy romantic comedies yes, I have stated before that when it comes to rom coms, I do enjoy them with a very heavy helping of cheese. The 2002 romantic comedy named after southern rock band Lynard Skynard’s hit song by the same named, starring Reese Witherspoon, and directed by Andy Tennant remains in my opinion one of the more underrated romantic comedies of the last decade.
Sweet Home Alabama is the story of Melanie Smooter CarMichael. She is a young woman from the rural area of Alabama who has moved to New York City and become a famous fashion designer. Now engaged to the Mayor of New York’s son Andrew Hennings (Patrick Dempsey), Melanie must return home to her roots in order to finalize the trailer park like divorce of her first husband Jake Perry (Josh Lucas).
Melanie returns home where she is forced to relive her early life living in small town USA with her two parents Earl and Pearl Smooter (Fred Ward and Mary Kay Pace) who represent caricatures of every good ole boy type of family. She also meets some of her old friends like her recently out of closest friend Bobby Ray (Ethan Embry) and of course the ‘former’ love of her life Jake with Josh Lucas doing the best Matthew McConaughey impression I have seen in a very long time. So the story follows Melanie as she comes to terms with her past, reconnects with her family, and finds the way to come to terms with her love between Josh and Andrew.
This is a rarity in romantic comedies that feature a male lead and a disposable love interest. 99% of the time when you have two men involved in a situation, there is a clear bread-winner. There is the guy that the girl definitely should choose and it is clear to the audience from the beginning. Now the reasons for this vary from movie to movie. A lot of the time it is because the disposable love interest is an abusive, mean-spirited douchebag. Other times, they simply do not share chemistry or any common bonds and if they do it is at least not as strong as the love shared between the two romantic leads.
This movie however gives us two love interests in Jake Perry and Andrew Hennings who are both good-hearted gentlemen. They both have their flaws and they both have their advantages. Plus it is clear that Melanie has deep feelings for both of them for different reasons. It is decently clear from the start that she is going to go home with Jake. It makes sense seeing as how this whole thing is about rediscovering your past and coming to grips with who you are as opposed to who you pretend to be. But that doesn’t take anything away from the Andrew character who is by all accounts loving, supportive, cares for Melanie, and in another movie would be the guy who comes to sweep the lovely leading lady off her feet.
It is smart writing on the part of C. Jay Cox to let these feelings and characters go. Because life isn’t always so cut and dry. Sometimes you do have to choose between two people who love you very much and you really can’t see any downsides to and this is one of those movies that lets those feelings go without saying ‘HEY! This one is clearly better!’
A Respectful Representation of a Southern Town
I will give it this, it does represent a small town in the south in a very positive light. Which my hats off to. Now the movie does lend itself to a few stereotypes like the eccentric old Civil War reenactment character who is firing cannon-shot at a historical landmark as well as a couple of pokes at the south such as having a baby in a bar, going to ‘good ole ho downs’, and some questionable eating decisions. But overall it is very respectful and portrays the town in a very loving, caring, and friendly sort of manner. I applaud them for not having some random bigoted asshole in the corner for the rest of the world to poke fun at.
It’s a Wish Fulfillment Fairy Tail
While some of this can be grounded in some truth and while most of these characters can be ‘relatable’, this is a straight up fairy tale, no other way around it. While each of the characters are enjoyable, they are all overblown stereotypes of certain people who you might meet in a southern town or on the opposite end of the spectrum, in a big city. They do not feel like real people with real problems and conundrums, they feel like they are only one step away from turning into a Disney Animated movie and start singing about how wonderful the south is and how we should all except each other.
I’m sure that a lot of people who have grown up in small town USA and return home to their roots to the culture shock experience something similar to what Melanie goes through… But I doubt we are all extremely influential fashion designers who are about to marry the son of the Mayor of New York. Not saying you can’t make a movie about the upper middle class to wealthy class of people, I’m just saying you are making a stretch when it comes to the realms of relating back to your audience.
Then we have plot points such as Bobby Ray being forced out of the closet by Melanie and it coming to Melanie being outed for covering up her past are wiped away with just a line of dialogue and no conflict when these are certainly things that would probably cause a bit of conflict before being resolved.
These all are not necessarily bad things, but in the context of the movie they are making I would say that it is a negative. This is supposed to be a romantic comedy about a woman going back to her past and instead we get a fairy tale land of Small Town USA that may be available out there, but stretches of what we as viewers can find relatable.
This is a good movie. It is a fairy tale wish-fulfillment movie featuring all the best parts of living in Small Town USA without all the nasty drawbacks, but overall it is a lot of fun to watch. The acting is well done and the movie ventures into realms that other romantic comedies do not have the desire or talent to wade into.
Final Score 3.5/5
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