½*/**** Image A Sound A- Extras C+
starring Reese Witherspoon, Josh Lucas, Patrick Dempsey, Fred Ward
screenplay by C. Jay Cox
directed by Andy Tennant
by Walter Chaw The first clue as to the vileness of Andy Tennant's Sweet Home Alabama is that it's named after a Lynyrd Skynrd song (paving the way, one supposes, for Freebird: The Movie and Smokestack Lightning); the second clue is that it's the first Reese Witherspoon picture in a while to find a way to squander her almost preternatural ability to salvage terrible scripts and spent concepts floating her way post-Election. Extraordinarily boring and unfunny while redolent with the sort of bad behaviour-made-cutesy that made stars of Julia Roberts and Ashley Judd, Sweet Home Alabama at least has the unlikely distinction of rendering Witherspoon shrill, dull, and during one ugly drunken tirade, irredeemable.
Melanie Smoot (Witherspoon) is a New York fashion designer who wants to marry Andrew (Patrick Dempsey), the billionaire son of the Big Apple's opportunistic ice queen Mayor (Candice Bergen), but first she must divorce redneck puddle-jumper Jake (Josh Lucas) from back home--an impossibly sweet Alabama. (Tennant does for Alabama what Nora Ephron does for New York.) Once in the backwoods, Melanie: reunites with sour Ma (Mary Kay Place) and dour Pa (Fred Ward), both actors modeling their characters on Grant Wood's necessarily two-dimensional painting "American Gothic"; "outs" poor Bobby Ray (Ethan Embry)--in the real world, they'd probably have been hung from the same pole flying the Confederate Flag outside the local watering hole; and delivers the most embarrassing monologue since Phoebe Cates's in Gremlins to, of all things, a license plate marking the burial spot of a "coon dog" named after legendary Crimson Tide coach Paul "Bear" Bryant.
Sweet Home Alabama is the sort of garbage where black people in New York are depicted as flaming queens while black people in Alabama are portrayed as civil servants and housemaids. Old folks are adorably demented and successful women unhappy, castrating bitches, and leaving someone at the altar is okay because, look, he ends up with a Vanderbilt during the end credits. Assault and battery is looked upon with a cozy indifference identical to Shrek's embedded message that birds of a feather should stick together, particularly if a certain redneck suitor suddenly turns out to be a successful entrepreneur. Honouring the film's contrivances would have necessitated that snooty Smoot end up with an abusive, wife-beating, mullet-sporting piece of drunken human detritus because she can't escape her inner hillbilly; instead, the frankly awful Melanie gets her grasping, social-climbing cake and eats it, too.
Over at least twenty minutes before anyone in the picture realizes that it is, Sweet Home Alabama also counts among its offenses a tragically overused score by George Fenton (which is tragic in its own way--"We're in Alabama, cue the sunny worker banjos!"), deadening direction by über-bland Tennant, and the kind of incredulous moments that can only occur when Jean Smart serves as the emotional and intellectual centre of something. If not for Melanie Lynskey in a thankless supporting role, there'd be nothing to recommend from this late-summer silt. Originally published: September 27, 2002.
by Bill Chambers What has happened to cinema? I address this rhetorical question not to the makers of rom-com chum like Sweet Home Alabama for making it in the first place, but for making it and then giving test audiences Final Cut. On the DVD release of Sweet Home Alabama, director Andy Tennant introduces all eight of the deleted scenes (nine, counting the alternate ending) in a section called "Off the Cutting Room Floor," and his preamble invariably goes like this:
"I like this scene but test audiences didn't, and so we removed it."
We are taking the democracy of motion pictures too far. The irony is, most of you reading this could not talk your way onto a Hollywood lot or into a meeting with a producer, and yet you, or I, could be serendipitously buying a Wetzel's Pretzel when NRG is recruiting bodies and, with one flip comment two hours later, throw a movie executive's life into a tailspin. Sweet Home Alabama, victimized by knee-jerk reactions to NRG surveys (in addition to reshooting the finale because a bait-and-switch gag made especially gullible preview auds uncomfortable, Tennant removed a subplot that cast doubt upon the Patrick Dempsey character's fidelity to Reese Witherspoon's), is thus paralyzed from the studio logo down; sometimes you're supposed to be provoked, sometimes that's the point. Sometimes, sometimes, sometimes. Andy, grow a pair.
The disc's only other extra of note is a feature-length commentary by Tennant that's less antennae-raising than his monologues elsewhere--instructive, even. He's a man still tickled by old-fashioned movie magic, delighting in telling us what's rear-projected and whether we're looking at a set (those armed guards during the Tiffany's proposal? They belonged to the store), and he enjoys bitching about the dog (no pun intended), whom he declares the worst actor in the film. (Wouldn't be my vote, but sure.) Too bad he never at any point admits how appalling Sweet Home Alabama is.
The picture's 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is gorgeous with a capital "g" despite the soft-focused, occasionally lustreless cinematography that's signature to Andrew Dunn. Grain is manifest though the source print is spotless, and compression is flawless to the naked eye. Some bass finds its way into the film's Dolby Digital 5.1 track on DVD, but where the mix shines is in its approximation of back-country ambience: bird-chirping and other nature effects sound unsettlingly authentic and transparently directional. SHeDAISY's cheesy video for "Mine All Mine" rounds out the Touchstone disc. Originally published: January 29, 2003.