“Sweet Home Alabama” shines

Jill Brower

It seems that whatever stereotypical character Hollywood dishes out, Reese Witherspoon is ready to take on. In “Election,” it was high school goody-goody go-getter Tracy Flick. In “Legally Blonde,” it was ditzy sorority girl Elle Woods. And while her country gal-turned-New York City socialite role as Melanie Carmichael in “Sweet Home Alabama” may be yet another stereotypical role, Witherspoon is able to make Carmichael turn out a bit more emotion than any of her previous characters.

The emotion behind “Sweet Home Alabama” comes from Carmichael’s struggle between her sophisticated life as an up-and-coming clothing designer engaged to Andrew (Patrick Dempsey) and the life and husband (Josh Lucas) she left behind. As the movie begins, it hardly seems like there is any decision to make at all — she has a successful career, the most eligible bachelor in New York and a glittering rock on her finger. But as she returns home to Alabama for the first time in seven years to take care of what she hopes to be an easy task — getting her husband to sign divorce papers — Carmichael finds herself more grounded in her roots than she thought.

The film is filled with just the right amount of stereotypical, regional humor to make it truly funny. The New York scenes are all politics, limousines and fashion shows, and the Alabama scenes, where nearly the entire film takes place, are … well, just the opposite. There are plenty of mullets, Confederate flags and Civil War re-enactments to make it seem like the Alabama most of us recognize — the one we see in the movies. No movie set in the South would be complete without a few double-named characters like Bobby Ray and rusty old pickup trucks, and this one has plenty of both. Of course, as you could probably predict, the movie also features a country dancing scene to the title song, Skynard’s classic “Sweet Home Alabama.”

While Carmichael is not surprised to find that nothing has changed back home since she left, she is shocked to find that she hasn’t changed all that much either, or as one redneck character aptly puts it, “You can take the girl out of the Honky-tonk, but you can’t take the Honky-tonk out of the girl.”

Carmichael’s love interests, Andrew and Jake, both add a deeper level of meaning to the film. While many movies would turn one man into the bad guy and portray the other as the hero, here both men are good guys and would seemingly make a fine choice. Without a doubt you will find yourself siding with both of them at different points in the story. This ensures that when Carmichael finally makes that inevitable decision of which man to be with – the one she has envisioned for her future, or the one who has risen from her past – she will choose based on which man she truly loves.

As shown symbolically with the Civil War imagery throughout the movie, the most blatant theme of “Sweet Home Alabama” is that one cannot run from his/her past. It becomes clear to Carmichael that the more she progresses with her life in New York, the farther she runs from her past life in Alabama. She is forced to confront the issues she had left in her dust for many years, and Witherspoon is able to reflect this internal struggle with just the right balance of emotion and humor.

This film is definitely one worth seeing, even if it is just to discover the answer to the question posed by Jake, as seen in nearly every preview: “Nobody finds their true love when they’re 10, right?”