If you’ve seen the trailers, you should have a pretty accurate idea of what “Sweet Home Alabama” will deliver: Reese Witherspoon as the clever and stylish heroine, reminiscent of the movie “Legally Blonde,” basking in her newly bankable presence.
While Andy Tennant’s “Sweet Home Alabama” treads familiar territory in the genre of romantic comedy, it does leave room for a re-examination of regional stereotypes.
Reese Witherspoon plays Melanie Carmichael, an up-and-coming New York designer who tries to hide her humble Southern roots. She lives a lie in the big city, claiming to be the daughter of aristocratic plantation owners, even though she really grew up in the tight quarters of a nearby trailer park.
In the beginning of the film, she gets engaged to Andrew (Patrick Dempsey) — the son of the mayor of New York City — in a grossly romantic scene involving a surprise midnight visit to Tiffany’s, and even better, a really huge diamond that seems to dwarf Witherspoon’s petite digits.
Before she can get married, Melanie must return home to finalize a divorce with her childhood sweetheart, played by Matthew McConaughey’s long lost twin, Jake (Josh Lucas). Once Melanie gets home, she falls right back into her small town ways and becomes doubtful of what decision to make.
This concept of a girl choosing between two boys is not a new one, but to the movie’s credit, Melanie’s decision is not made easy. The New York boyfriend is neither elitist nor repulsed by her past when he inevitably uncovers it.
Also, her hometown love is not endearingly simple; he comes across as intelligent and witty beneath a mask of slow speech and flannel shirts.
“Sweet Home Alabama” is clearly a romantic comedy, not necessarily because it is consistently funny, but because it is a lighthearted look at a classic love triangle with a few good one-liners. The film’s redeeming value is its treatment of familiar stereotypes of New York and Alabama.
Melanie’s life in New York is full of flawless model friends who have the perfect tans and exclaim “Oh my God!” with the appropriate pauses between each word for dramatic effect. Gay designers flamboyantly use the mannerisms and French catch phrases of the gay men from every TV sitcom.
On the flip side, Pigeon Creek, Ala., remains unchanged in the eight years Melanie stays away, complete with her parents Earl and Pearl, a closeted gay man named Bobby Ray (Ethan Embry), and a gang of former cow-tippers, whose members now climb the water tower to drink and swing their cowboy boots.
But a simpler movie would have left the stereotypes at that. This movie embraces them and shows the genuine appeal of the people associated with them. Her New York friends, upon finding out the truth by coming down South, never question Melanie or think less of her.
The people from her past, while disappointed with the New York airs Melanie sometimes mounts, forgivingly welcome her back. There are surprises in store for Melanie when she writes off certain members of her old life as deadbeats and failures. “Sweet Home Alabama” builds up the stereotypes, and to a certain extent, knocks them down.
For Melanie, both lives can fit since no one is necessarily the city girl or the country bumpkin. But also, no one leaves his or her past completely behind, try as he or she may. The town serves as a personification of the draw of Melanie’s history, and it does a good job of pulling her home to where the heart is.
In the end, “Sweet Home Alabama” is a feel-good movie with a sporadic sense of humor. Reese Witherspoon is in her cute-girl, comic groove and the rest of the cast does a good job complementing her. The film is not a terribly original romantic comedy, but it does a good job of addressing the perceptions of the North and the South and their ideas of each other. “Sweet Home Alabama” is an enjoyable watch, if for no other reason than you know it’s got a fitting and catchy theme song.