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Movie Review

Reese Witherspoon is making a fortune impersonating fish out of water. In Pleasantville, she morphed from color to black & white when she and her brother found themselves living in TV Land. In the smash Legally Blonde, she imported an oh-so-California valley girl to the hallowed halls of Harvard. In Sweet Home Alabama, she’s a poor Southern lass who reinvents herself as a Big Apple socialite—then finds it almost impossible to go home again. It’s the "almost" part that makes the movie work.

Engaged to Andrew, the son of New York City’s mayor, Melanie knows she has to go home to Pigeon Creek, Ala., and face her past before her future does it for her. She has to tell her parents. She has to—and here’s the big secret—divorce her husband. (Gasp! Won’t the tabloids have a field day when they unearth this skeleton!) Melanie married Jake right out of high school, barefoot, pregnant and going nowhere fast. She had a miscarriage. And then she ran away. For seven years she fled everything she had learned to despise(her hometown, parents and hubby), making a new life for herself (one of glamour, money and prestige). But Jake was her first love, and she’s not quite prepared to discover that seven years isn’t enough time to obliterate all of her buried feelings. So as she clashes with her own culture, she sorts out what’s important. What she really wants. And what she needs.

positive elements: Melanie spends the bulk of her screen time sorting out right from wrong, love from hate, friendship from convenience. And a good sized chunk of her conclusions—and actions—are right on the money. Her mother and father love her dearly, and even though they haven’t had much contact for nearly a decade, she’s welcomed with open arms when she comes home. Her mom desperately wants her to be happy and wishes for her to have all the things she never had. [Spoiler Warning] Melanie isn’t the only one reinventing herself. After she leaves Jake for the bright lights of the big city, Jake dedicates himself to self-improvement. He doesn’t just want to woo her back with money, though, he wants respectability and the self-confidence to provide her with a secure world. Best of all, the ties that bind two souls together in marriage get huge props from this story.

sexual content: There are a couple of scenes of passionate kissing. At a fashion show, women bare considerable amounts of cleavage. There are several remarks about sexual activity (for instance, Melanie quips that the only reason she and Jake fell in love was that she was the "first girl to climb into the back of his truck"). There’s also a thread of homosexual jesting and innuendo that runs through the film. A woman who becomes a softball coach is branded a lesbian. (Melanie smirks about how that would explain a certain game of Post Office she played with the woman when they were children.) Pool balls serve as double entendres for a man in Alabama who Melanie "outs" as homosexual. Irreconcilably, he quickly comes to grips with his "outing" and even cracks a joke about it when he’s hanging out with the guys a few scenes later. It’s intimated that Melanie’s fashion mentor in New York is gay. When he first meets Jake, he brightens and coyly claims, "I saw him first."

violent content: Lightning strikes very near two children. Reenactments of the Civil War involve explosions and gunfire. Reacting angrily toward a woman who disrespects her mother, Melanie punches her in the face, knocking her to the ground. A man is tackled by security guards.

crude or profane language: Seven or eight s-words. A trio of crude expressions for sexual body parts. About 25 mild profanities and about that same number of exclamatory abuses of the Lord’s name ("Jesus" is used twice and "Christ" three times).

drug and alcohol content: Champagne is served at a fashion show, and hard liquor and beer flows freely at an Alabama honky-tonk. Melanie and Jake both regret that he was drunk on their wedding night. Melanie drinks herself into oblivion at the bar (martinis are her drink of choice). Afterwards, she’s only shown from a distance through the windows when she throws up all over Jake’s truck and passes out. Jake drinks on several occasions, once with his buddies on top of the town’s water tower.

other negative elements: There’s a story told about a 10-year-old Melanie who straps dynamite to a cat which wanders into the town bank seconds before it explodes. It wouldn’t be fair, however, not to mention that she does it to save the cat (which was suffering from cancer) from being put down by the vet.

conclusion: I can’t think of how it would be possible to make a movie about Alabama without filling it with stereotypes. Leave ’em out and you don’t do the culture justice ("You should need a Passport to travel down here," Melanie sighs). 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. And as Melanie struggles with her own feelings about being back home, you feel twinges of her emotion, too.

Melanie lies to her friends in New York about her past. And she has to come to grips with that. She ran out on her husband. And she faces that too. She’s mean and rude to many of her old friends when she arrives home. But she makes a point of finding each one of them later and apologizing. See the thread here? The story is sentimental and sweet. The film is fun to watch even when its formula pokes through. And Witherspoon is every bit as charming as she was in Blonde. Unfortunately, backhanded homosexual endorsements and 25-or-so too many misuses of God’s name will leave Christian families feeling a little sour.


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