September 27, 2002 5:52am EST
Melanie Carmichael (Reese Witherspoon) is a budding fashion designer living in New York City. She's dating the mayor's son Andrew Hemmings (Patrick Dempsey)--who with the help of a hairpiece looks a tad like JFK Jr.--from whom she receives the ultimate marriage proposal. (In case you haven't seen the trailer the scene involves a late-night proposal in Tiffany's with her choice of any ring.) She readily agrees but neglects to tell Andrew she already has an old man in her hometown of Pigeon Creek Alabama. A plane ride later Melanie is on her way home to deal with her divorce which hubby Jake (Josh Lucas) has been unwilling to give her for the past eight or so years. But once there Melanie realizes that her past is not so bad the folks are not that trashy and Jake isn't such a greaseball after all. She must now decide among many things which road to take. "I'm really happy in New York " she laments. "But then I come here and this fits too." Although the script for this romantic comedy is not the most original you have to appreciate the fact that scribes C. Jay Cox and Douglas Eboch make Melanie's decision challenging by never making either one of her beaus a jerk.
Witherspoon 's character Melanie is not as rambunctious as Legally Blonde's Elle Woods but the 26-year-old actress still manages to turn this movie into a delightful moviegoing experience. Witherspoon has a way of delivering her lines in quirky yet intelligent manner and--just like the reputation that proceeds her--is truly a joy to watch on screen. The film reunites Witherspoon with her American Psycho costar Lucas who more recently appeared in A Beautiful Mind. Lucas portrays Jake in a refreshing manner; he seems a little dopey at first because of his thick Southern accent but is actually a pretty sharp and witty guy who never puts up with Melanie's snotty flippant ways. In fact don't be surprised if you leave the theater longing to marry a Southerner who flies an amphibious plane with the words "Mo' Fishing" scrawled on the side. As the third player in the love triangle Dempsey does an adequate job as the blueblood aristocrat but the role is limited. All we really know about his character Andrew is that he's the mayor's son and has a terribly romantic side. Candice Bergen plays the tough mayor of New York City but not a very busy one it would appear. Bergen's character spends her time fussing over her son's love life and career while ordering her staff to dig up some dirt on Melanie.
In her press publicity for this film Witherspoon a native of Nashville Tenn. has accused Hollywood of often stereotyping Southerners as ignoramuses who talk funny but explains that this film offers a true representation of Southern values. I thought her comment was interesting considering director Andrew Tennant litters the film with clichés including a closeted gay man (Ethan Embry) who fears coming out to his rural peers and a woman who breastfeeds her baby in a bar. Despite its crudely identified characters Sweet Home Alabama is not a bad movie but nor is it great--and if you read the title you know how it will end. What makes this movie stand out more than the average romantic comedy is Witherspoon and Lucas: their characters are relatable and well written and both actors--especially Witherspoon--elevate the film to a higher standard. Tennant does however manage to convey a real essence of small towns. The movie could have done without eerie pro-confederacy messages like Melanie's father (Fred Ward) exclaiming "The South will rise again!"