Sweet Home Alabama (12A)

Review by Simon Bell

FOR those campaigning for Reese Witherspoon to be the next Julia Roberts, Sweet Home Alabama couldn’t be more timely. Admittedly, she’s already firmly on the Hollywood players’ map, but the 'sweetheart of a nation' credentials are also now well and truly hers. (And who more deserving?)

Here, we have Reese as Melanie Carmichael, a Deep South country girl who’s made it to the top in the Big Apple as a famous and respected fashion designer. She’s so perfect she’s even attracted the amorous attentions of the JFK Jr-a-like (pre ‘copter crash, naturally) son of Socialite/Democrat Mayor of New York Kate Hennings (Candice Bergen).

He’s quite flash, so hatches a scheme to get down on bended knee in Tiffany’s (stay with me, it’s a fairy tale after all). She’s logically quite impressed, but must clear up some unfinished business back home, before cementing these new nuptials. Cue trip home to Alabama to secure divorce from redneck Jake (Josh Lucas), a slack-jawed hick she hasn’t seen for seven years.

Said hick has other plans, though: Namely to win back his childhood sugar-bean and prove that he’s worth every last cent of her new suitor’s wealth.

Reese is the reason to go see Sweet Home, of course. Then again, she’d have made even Pretty Woman watchable. The fact that it took millions more in its opening weekend than the 1990 sickly-sweet love fable goes to show what a hit she is.

With great art direction that looks like the best work of the Alabama tourist board and the occasional dark joke, Sweet Home manages to peek above your regular knockabout romcom. There’s echoes of Four Weddings and a Funeral (though, perhaps, a little less sharp) in there too: Comically interrupted ceremonials, gay best friend etc, etc.

On the surface, Sweet Home’s a conventional catfish-out-of-water romantic comedy, but take a peep under the chicken fried steak and gravy and you’ll find a well-acted, well-directed and finely-shot feelgood movie, as melodic, plucky and exhilarating as a tautly-tuned banjo… with not a Lynyrd Skynyrd beard in sight. Hell, you can even smell the apple pie cooling on the window sill.