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Sweet Home Alabama

review by Zach B.

 

 

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (For Some Language/Sexual References)

Running Time: 109 minutes

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Josh Lucas, Patrick Dempsey, Fred Ward, Mary Kay Place, Jean Smart and Candice Bergen

Screenplay by: C. Jay Cox
Story by: Douglas J. Eboch

Directed by: Andy Tennant

 

Studio: Disney

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: Audio Commentary with Director Andy Tennant, Off The Cutting Room Floor, Alternate Ending Alternate Ending with Introduction by Director Andy Tennant, SHeDAISY "Mine All Mine" Music Video. DVD-ROM: Register Your DVD

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selections (12 Scenes)

Released: February 4th, 2003

 

 

Despite many strong performances in a variety of films, Reese Whiterspoon didn't break out as a major Hollywood player until 2001's "Legally Blonde." The success of that film took nearly everyone in the industry by surprise, as she then skyrocketed to even more fame and success (currently she's one of Hollywood's highest paid actresses). Still, all of this was firmly rooted when "Sweet Home Alabama" opened in late September 2002. Whiterspoon proved she was a major box office draw and could certainly open a movie, as the film took in a record breaking gross of over 35 million it its opening weekend. As the film would become one of the fall's biggest hits (grossing well over 120 million dollars), most industry folk weren't that shocked. Proven with poise, Reese Whiterspoon was now officially a Hollywood star (and rightfully so).

"Sweet Home Alabama" tells the story of Melanie Carmichael (Whiterspoon), an up-and-coming clothing designer based in New York who gets engaged to Andrew Hennings (Patrick Dempsey), the son of New York City's mayor (Candice Bergen). While all of this might seem so magical and pleasant, there's one problem: Melanie is still married to her estranged childhood sweetheart, Jake (Josh Lucas). Of course, no one in New York knows that she has an estranged husband, a different name and a very offbeat past to say the least.

So it's off to Alabama for Melanie, the very place where she was born and raised so she can get her divorce finalized. The only problem is, Jake is a bit reluctant to sign the papers he needs to. In the meantime, Melanie is stuck in Alabama, so she ends up revisiting her past and those who were once close to her heart. Of course, her new nuptials are scheduled to be taken place in Melanie's old home town. But there's also the matter of the truth coming out, and that maybe Melanie's heart and true love is right where she left it...

Just because "Sweet Home Alabama" turned out to be a rather popular movie, that does not mean it is a good one. Yes, this is one predictable romantic comedy (I couldn't have imagined it any other way). Not that there is a problem with knowing how stories are going to turn out, but it's all the more annoying when the execution is poor - especially when those stories have such potential. Sadly, this is the case with "Sweet Home Alabama."

The script, credited to C. Jay Cox from a story by Douglas J. Eboch, isn't the most original with its vague "sorta rags-to-riches" story and the idea of having skeletons in one's closet. So what's the problem? Despite the wide range of attempts, this movie is not funny. There could have been comic gold within the whole concept of a now-rich city girl returning to her eccentric roots (also not exactly the most original idea), but I did not laugh once (or was even slightly amused) by anything the film offered.

The film's attempts for laughs are mainly through the supporting cast of "quirky" folk who reside in Melanie's old hometown, but the problem is they seem more like standard, recycled stereotypes that we've seen time and time again in much better comedies. These characters may have their own unique charms ("A MOTHER WITH HER BABY IN A BAR? THAT'S HILARIOUS!!!"), but they are all rather limited and developed poorly. Melanie's parents, homosexual Bobby Ray and Stella Kay (just to name a few characters) are supposed to be fun, interesting and memorable, but they really are not.

As far as the more "main" characters, they're not much better. Melanie and Jake are two-dimensional at best since they actually do develop into something more throughout the course of the film, and they do have their own set of internal and external conflicts. However, Andrew and his mother are strictly one-dimensional. Andrew, in the few scenes that he appears in, comes across as a nice and successful guy while his mother, the mayor of New York City, comes across as a snobby, self-concious bitch on wheels. Given how the film should also be about Melanie's relationship with Andrew, there should have been much more to these characters. I personally thought that the film's greatest flaw was that the characters are poorly developed, almost in a lazy and haphazard way.

The film also suffers from narrative problems. I really don't know who to blame for that, so I might as well as blame the writer AND the director. The point is that when it comes down to the end, there is very little to the story. There is no real build-up to any of the events or conflicts; the movie just keeps jumping around without taking into consideration with what has happened. What I found to be quite annoying is that the character of Andrew is more or less in the background throughout the film, and as I mentioned, there's no meat to his relationship with Melanie. Surprisingly, there is also a lack of tension as Melanie has to come to terms with her love life. I'm pretty sure if there was some extra tension, there could have been ideas for more inspired laughs and moments.

While watching the film, I personally got the sense that director Andy Tennant didn't have an idea of what to do exactly. And while he does have some nice shots, he really does nothing special with the film. This movie lacks a true sense of balance and heart. It's emotional range and events are rather uneven, and by the end of the film, I couldn't help but feel overly dissatisfied. This movie just drags on and on, and like Melanie herself, has no idea what will happen on her journey until everything just randomly seems to come together.

The film's only saving grace is the strong ensemble of actors, who make this film much better than it actually is. The acting here is very, very strong. As you'd expect, Reese Witherspoon carries the film with such poise and ease. This is part is rather perfect for her, which makes it all the more tragic that there isn't more to the role and the film itself. The anxiety, zippy and stubborn qualities that Witherspoon exhibits throughout the film are nothing short of exuberant. Witherspoon proves that she has what it takes to carry a movie, as she shows how talented she is. Simply put, she's flawless.

The other actors surrounding Witherspoon do an admirable job. Josh Lucas is quite enthusiastic and winning as Jake, as he does have some nice moments bouncing off Witherspoon and has great chemistry with her. Patrick Dempsey was pretty good as Andrew, but I'll say it again: there needed to be more of his character. Candice Bergen does a terrific job in her small role as Andrew's mother, truly capturing the attitude, mean-spirits and power the role offers. Ethan Embry, who's been branching out of teen films and making his mark as a strong character actor is quite nice as Bobby Ray, while Fred Ward and Mary Kay Place are a nice match as Melanie's parents.

In all, "Sweet Home Alabama" ranks as one of the blandest movies I've seen in the past few years, and definitely one of the more mediocre romantic comedies I've ever seen. While the actors (particularly Reese Witherspoon) make this movie shine a bit brighter, they simply can't save the uneven and rather uneventful jumbled script and the so-so direction from Andy Tennant. This is truly one of 2002's most disappointing movies.

 

"Sweet Home Alabama" features a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and the results are rather splendid. Still, despite the good, the transfer sports some flaws. There's a little bit of edge enhancement that might be distracting to some, while blemishes, dirt pieces and nicks are sprinkled throughout the print (that gets pretty annoying rather fast). What also brings this transfer down is the abundance of grain and how soft the image is, though at times it can be rather sharp. Despite all of that though, there's a lot to like here. Fleshtones are spot-on and look quite nice, color saturation is quite bold as well as smooth (plus the colors don't smear) and detail is very nice. In all, it might not be perfect, but this is another solid live-action transfer from Disney and you could do much worse.

 

Presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital (in English or French), the film boasts a pretty active and robust sound experience. While this isn't an action-packed film that will blow up your speakers, there are some ample moments for surrounds and the mix does most of those moments justice. I particuarly liked how you constantly felt you were part of what was going on. Scenes such as the opening fashion show where the music for the actual show is in the background backstage and then pumps up when you see the actual show. However, the only scene where I felt disappointed was in the Civil War re-enactment - there could have been more use of the rear channels.

Still, subwoofer use is pretty nice and the dialogue sounds quite crisp. The music, be it the sweet score or the several songs do pass through the speakers nicely. Everything here is also nicely balanced, so the dialogue, music and sound effects don't get cluttered and one doesn't end up overpowering the others. Dynamic range is really strong, fidelity is quite high and then panning of sounds as well as great imaging. In all, this is a nice and satisfying mix. Also included are English closed captions and English subtitles.

 

It's not majorly packed (I would have imagined there would have been more here, given how successful the film was at the box office), but fans of the movie are sure to enjoy the extras here. The big attraction here is definitely the Audio Commentary with Director Andy Tennant. Despite some pauses here and there, this is a decent commentary at best. There are some interesting production stories, but Tennant's comments are mostly far too obvious as he describes what's going and don't lack much insight (here's a "big problem": Lucas and Dempsey are both very handsome!). At times he seems at a loss for words as if he's doing his best to recall some things, but he does offer much praise to the cast and expains some of his vision. I wonder if this commentary would have been better if there were some extra participants. Die-hard fans only need to listen to this.

Off The Cutting Room Floor is a series of deleted scenes, all introduced by director Andy Tennant. He offers some pretty ample explanations on why they were cut and additional background on the scenes. These are pretty good cuts, since they really don't add much to the movie, and even at time changes the tone. Most of the cuts deal with a supporting character cut out of the movie named Erin, as she really doesn't do much. The scenes are "Erin Spills Coffee," "Melanie Talks to Erin," "Press Hounds Melanie/Erin," "Pan Reads Melanie Her Reviews," "Andrew Calls Melanie & Erin Flirts," "Stella's Roadhouse," "Phone Call Montage" and "Kate Meets Erin." There is also an Alternate Ending with Introduction by Director Andy Tennant. Tennant opens this ending and after it he closes with some comments. This ending is actually a bit disturbing and not so lighthearted (as the filmmakers intended). The other ending truly works better, and judging from Tennant's comments, it seems a lot of this movie was fueled by test audiences. The scenes look a bit rough, but are fully edited. They are presented in two channel Dolby Digital sound and non-anamorphic widescreen.

Finally, we have the SHeDAISY "Mine All Mine" Music Video in two channel Dolby Digital sound and non-anamorphic widescreen, plus you DVD-ROM users can Register Your DVD. On different notes, the menus for the film are pretty weird and freaky, and the 109 minute film only has 12 chapter stops, so expect some pretty long chapters.

 

"Sweet Home Alabama" is a mediocre romantic comedy at best, and it's strengths definitely come from the fine work the actors put into the movie, especially Reese Witherspoon. Fans of the film should be pleased with this release, as it sports a strong sound mix, a nice transfer and some worthwhile supplements. If you're a fan of the movie, then this is a worthy purchase. If you haven't seen the movie yet and you're curious, a rental should do just fine.