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Monday, 17 October 2016

Retro Review: Sweet Home Alabama (2002)

Sweet Home Alabama
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Josh Lucas, Patrick Dempsey, Candice Bergen, Jean Smart, Dakota Fanning
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Worldwide Lifetime Gross: over $180 million

Plot: New York fashion designer Melanie (Reese Witherspoon) suddenly finds herself engaged to the city's most eligible bachelor. But Melanie's past holds many secrets, including Jake (Josh Lucas), the redneck husband she married in high school, who refuses to divorce her. Bound and determined to end their relationship once and for all, Melanie sneaks back home to Alabama to confront her past, only to discover that you can take the girl out of the south, but you can't take the South out of the girl. 

' Average Rom-Com That Falters In The Romance Stakes'

Sweet Home Alabama is a romantic comedy that offers a lot more than just girl-meets-boy, but also a reality check for the main character, Melanie Carmichael who is reminded not to forget her Southern roots. An up-and-coming fashion designer based in the Big Apple, namely New York, her fiance Andrew proposes to her - the only problem is that Melanie is still technically married to childhood sweetheart, Jake in Alabama and so she travels back to her hometown to denounce their marriage and persuade him to sign the divorce papers. But this proves to be a lot more difficult than she'd originally thought, as she is forced to confront her past & her feelings towards her husband. Whilst she is in Alabama, Melanie learns more about herself, and of the things she hadn't known, as revelations regarding herself and of Jake later 

This film starts off promisingly well in the city and after 10 mins into the movie, events move to the South when Melanie travels back home to Alabama and she finds herself reacquainted with her family, friends & the men who had a crush on her. This part sort of reminds me a little of The Proposal where Margaret who is posing as Andrew's bride travels to Andrew's family haven. 

The role of Melanie Carmichael could have easily been taken up by either Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Aniston or Julia Roberts, but, and whilst she may lack their dynamism and charms in their respective area, the rom-com, Reese Witherspoon rose to the occasion and shows that despite Sweet Home Alabama's wishy-washy material, she has a knack for the romantic comedy. 

Patrick Dempsey - pre-Grey's Anatomy- plays Melanie's fiance, Andrew and eligible bachelor. The interesting thing about his character is that his mother doesn't like Andrew being with Melanie and yet it's nice to see that as the romantic false lead, the writers didn't make him out to be a total jerk. But rather his mother look like the jerk instead for a change for this film. 

Many romantic comedies emphasise opposites attract and love at first sight, of two people who don't know each other coming together in the movie, that no matter how different you are, you can still find love. But with this film, that sentiment is the exact opposite: in that, the two people, Jake and Melanie who are involved in this tale are not complete strangers, & of whom have known each other since childhood, can fall in love with each other as adults, after spending several years apart. There are not that many rom-com movies about former lovers and exes, who meet up several years later and end up falling back in love with one another. 

It is the type of rom-com that, in a way, tries to push the boundaries of what love is & what it can be as well, more so than what-what love is all about. At the same time, Sweet Home Alabama is unseated with not very likeable characters. The other issues are that the film doesn't hold up as well throughout its run-time that it sadly becomes ordinary and bloated and there isn't much in the way of romance that is being handled in the film. 

Though the story and film are lacking in excitement and isn't too deep, not to mention it can be formulaic, that underlying message about being true to yourself and to your roots hits home. There are arguments that the town folk are portrayed too stereotypically, as well as the stereotypes are a little unrealistic. It may not be mind-blowing and it wasn't quite entertaining, but this is one of the few rom-coms I could stand and tolerate. I just wished that when events switched to the South, the characters and the story had been more entertaining and with less corny humour. Steel Magnolias was a film that managed to do that, but that was helped by the star casting of the likes Sally Field, Julia Roberts, Shirley Maclaine & Dolly Parton that helped galvanise the movie. Yet in Sweet Home Alabama, there just wasn't enough star power, or be it there is a lack of star power to pull this one very far. Which is one of a couple of voids the film didn't fill. 

It does present different things for a rom-com, however: you get to see the difficult cultures, traditional to modern, south versus east, the contrasts between Alabama & New York and I really like the message this film tries to convey. This movie is certainly a case where one true love does indeed win out in the end: yet I so wished the story had a lot more substance going for it, besides Melanie & Jake's problems and that of the townsfolk, and the pitfalls that Melanie faces in her search of love rarely convince and thus, they aren't strong enough. 

Additionally, at the time she was associated with the rom-com genre, surprisingly, there is a distinct lack of chemistry between Witherspoon and Lucas, onscreen as their characters. 

Final Verdict:

Sweet Home Alabama is another addition to the romantic comedy staple; this is more than just a rags-to-riches tale, it's about not forgetting who you are and where you are from. That home is really where the heart is. It is a tale about coming full circle and making peace with oneself. Yet, most of the time, it plays things a bit too safe and the story should have been better, overall and left an even bigger & lasting impression on me. 

With okay to solid performances and a few touching and poignant scenes, Sweet Home Alabama is Southern comfort, with a twist on the rom-com formula by throwing in the old flame trope; alas, as the old saying goes,''you can take the girl out of the south, but you surely can't take the South out of the girl''. 

Romance-wise, however, it should have amounted to so much more.


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