Sweet Home Alabama
I never expected to sit in the theatre and count the minutes until I could hear "Sweet Home Alabama" again on the sound track, but the song is one of the very few good things about this film. The other is Josh Lucas, and I'll come back to him in a minute.
"Sweet Home Alabama" is the story of Melanie Carmichael, child of wealth in the old South, or so she presents herself in the big apple when she gets to make a splash as a fashion designer, now engaged to Andrew (Patrick Dempsey), the son of New York's mayor (Candice Bergen). Melanie, played by Reese Witherspoon, is of course a fraud. Not only is she Alabama trailer trash but she is still married to the guy who got her pregnant in high school.
Andrew, a very nice man who apparently has no last name (neither does his mother, for what that's worth), has proposed to her by booking Tiffany's ring department and presenting her with a rock the size of Gibralter, or at least a New York cockroach. Needless to say, she accepts his proposal. Just one problem: she has to go back to Alabama and get her husband to sign the divorce papers. All of this she keeps to herself, for the kind of plot reasons that if known would make the film itself unnecessary.
But here's where the Josh Lucas good thing comes in. He plays Melanie's Alabama husband Jake, and he is still in love with her. (Is she still in love with him? Is this anything but a by-the-numbers script?) I think "Sweet Home Alabama" is a breakthrough, star-making vehicle for him. Lucas has the kind of screen charisma that the young Paul Newman had; they even look alike, with that goofy-but-warm grin, a sexy voice, and killer blue eyes. He knows how to read his lines, he shows some acting range, and unlike everyone else here, he's compelling whenever he's on screen. Even Witherspoon, who has dominated her other films, simply fades into a supporting role when she's with Lucas on screen. We are watching him, not her.
It's not fair to trash the film; there are a couple of scenes that work; when Melanie shows up at a local bar and makes an ass of herself, the ensemble character work of all the people around her feels powerful and authentic. But this is a film that doesn't really believe in itself; the script has given Witherspoon too great a hurdle to overcome for us to believe her in this unbelievable situation. Scene after scene and line after line simply don't ring true, and even good actors just can't overcome them. "Sweet Home Alabama" is not a dismal failure, but it is a failure nonetheless. Even the song can't redeem it.