A review of “Sweet Home Alabama” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for language, adult situations

Run Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes

 

 

Reese Witherspoon takes a stab at recreating her “Legally Blonde” romantic-comedy triumph, and nearly succeeds.  This classic fish-out-of-water tale features Witherspoon as upscale New York City fashion-designing sensation Melanie Carmichael, a bubbly, talented force-field with a burgeoning career and a high-profile boyfriend.  When her main squeeze (Patrick Dempsey as Andrew) pops the question during a private, late-night session at Tiffany’s, Melanie panics.

Isn’t this every girl’s dream proposal?  Yes, but there’s a hitch.  Melanie is married; to her backwoods, redneck high school boyfriend Jake (Josh Lucas), who’s long since been left behind in, you guessed it, Alabama.  Skulking back to the Deep South to confront her past (and procure a signature on the divorce papers), Melanie is awash in nostalgia, and a heap o’resistance from her stubborn lowlife hubby.  Jake refuses to sign.  Old friends turn a cold shoulder.  The specter of “Felony Melanie” returning to the scene of her childhood crimes is just too hot to handle for this poor little Alabama burg.

Give credit to Witherspoon, who can turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse with just a smile.  The film wavers between the trite – “You can’t have roots and wings”, “You can take the girl out of the South, but you can never take the South out of the girl”, blah, blah, blah – and some unexpectedly genuine moments that are delightfully restrained considering the dopey premise. The script intermittently wavers close to the dark side of comedy, keeping it in credible check.

Witherspoon is proving that she can live up to the $15 million paycheck she’ll be endorsing for “Legally Blonde 2”, but her co-stars work double-time at making her shine.  Dempsey plays the NYC mayor’s son with privileged aplomb, his silver spoon lodged firmly south of the waist.  Lucas is worth writing home about (and worth writing here about) – engaging, unexpectedly deep, and definitely making my end of the year Hunks list.  His aw-shucks performance is pure sweet Southern charm, and it works like one to make this the feel-good movie of the Fall.