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Sweet Home Alabama

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jan
Sweet Home Alabama

from Film Forum, 10/03/02

Sweet Home Alabama gives Reese Witherspoon her most glamorous role yet, and the film broke records for a September opening weekend. Witherspoon plays Melanie, a fashion mogul trying to escape her modest past in small-town Alabama. When her rich boyfriend (Patrick Dempsey) proposes to her in lavish fashion, the stage is set for a spectacular wedding. There's just one problem—she has yet to complete a divorce with her estranged husband (Josh Lucas). Is their marriage really dead? Which guy will she choose—the big-city rich guy or the unshaven small-town rogue who really knows her? Make a wild guess.

Religious media critics express mixed feelings. "While the movie eventually has its heart in the right place … Alabama plays fast and loose with Melanie's commitment to her marriage vows," Gerri Pare (Catholic News) says. "In the interests of light-hearted comedic elements, her indiscretions get blown over as if they are harmless little white lies when in reality they are serious, even reckless."

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) is bothered by something else: "The film depends heavily upon stereotypes for its humor. We must … recognize that stereotypes tend to encourage division amongst us as they focus on what makes a group of people uniquely different."

The caricatures didn't seem divisive to Holly McClure (Crosswalk): "I'm from Texas, so the accents, attitudes and references to the South were all things I could laugh at and relate to. Instead of the story focusing on a good or bad guy 'winning' the woman, it comes down to issues about who Melanie really is and … what kind of person she wants to be. And I like that."

"I can't think of how it would be possible to make a movie about Alabama without filling it with stereotypes," says Steven Isaac (Focus on the Family). "Leave 'em out and you don't do the culture justice. Put 'em in and you're bound to offend someone. Thankfully, for every good-natured jab, Sweet Home Alabama supplies a human face for balance. The film is fun to watch even when its formula pokes through. And Witherspoon is every bit as charming as she was in [Legally] Blonde." He cautions viewers, though, that the film contains "backhanded homosexual endorsements and … too many misuses of God's name."

Dick Staub (CultureWatch) poses questions for getting the most out of the experience: "Can youthful love be the right love? Once you've given your heart completely can you ever really take it back? Can you and should you ever turn away from your roots and the people and places who have made you who you are?"

But Preview's critic says viewers shouldn't bother: "[Alabama] would be a wholesome movie without its condoned excessive drinking and foul language."

Mainstream critics liked Witherspoon even if they weren't thrilled with the rest. Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times) says, "It is a fantasy, a sweet, light-hearted fairy tale. Witherspoon … is as lovable as Doris Day would have been in this role. But I am so very tired of the underlying premise. Isn't it time for the movies to reflect reality and show the Melanies of the world fleeing to New York as fast as they can?"

Anthony Lane (The New Yorker) is even less fond of it: "The whole project treads a delicate line between something that will fill a gulf in your afternoon and something that your local sanitation department will refuse to cart away. [Director Andy] Tennant … wants viewers to laugh down their noses at Alabama mores (bring on the deep-fried gags), yet he also wishes to make it perfectly clear that he holds the Yankee gods of money and modishness in righteous contempt."