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Dan Heller's Movie Review of "Sweet Home Alabama"


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Sweet Home Alabama is a fine example of the perfect "formula" movie for the comedy-romance genre. The keyword here is "formula." The film makes no attempt at hiding its Cinderella storyline and predictable outcome, but what makes this film so wonderful is its intelligent and humanly approach to the subject and its characters. Not only is the film enjoyable from beginning to end, it's refreshing to see it intentionally avoid all the mistakes that most formula movies make. No gags. No oversimplifications. No diminutive treatment of subcultures to garner a laugh. Instead, it focuses on precisely what makes great movies great: strong character profile and development, intelligent script, believable motivations, strong supporting roles, and a very honest and real portrayal of people behaving in believable ways. Above all, the movie acknowledges serious moments by way of serious acting. Whatever is funny is so because people are acting in ways that appear real and authentic, not because the writers had a good one-liner that managed to wriggle into the script.

Sha (2)
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The story revolves around Melanie Carmichael (played by Reese Witherspoon), a successful high-end clothing designer in New York, who is forced to go back to her home town in Alabama to finalize her divorce to her husband from seven years ago, so that she can marry the man of her dreams back in the big Apple. This is a classic Cinderella story, where a woman is ashamed of her past and tries to hide it, only to find she must go back and face her past before moving on in life. In the process, she learns more about herself, her family and friends, and finally appreciates her roots in life and comes to terms with the
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mistakes she's made. It's a movie about self-discovery, but in this film, all the characters reveal depths about themselves that truly flesh out the story to unexpected dimensions. Even Candice Bergen's role as the mayor of New York, while clearly exaggerated and over-the-top as a political weasel, is a truly likable character (even though she looks and acts remarkably similar to how we might envision Martha Stewart behaving in private). For each character in each scene, we understand motivations, we believe why people choose their actions, and we follow along willingly and eagerly as events unfold to reveal more and more depths to people and the skeletons they've kept in their closets.

I was completely taken off guard by how smart this film was, from the script to the performances of even the most minor characters. This film illustrates so well that it only takes a simple moment, a gesture, or
Sha (4)
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even a short line of dialog to breathe real life into a character giving a film true depth: the eyebrow expression in response to a surprise, a look of pleasure when something works in their favor, and even the use of dialect and slang all contribute smoothly to the authenticity of the film. Directors have no more excuses for cutting corners on such aspects of their films, something I've been complaining about for all of the past romantic comedies of the past year. What's more the director, Andy Tennant, whose resume is mostly comprised of TV movies and less-than-stellar theatrical releases, illustrates that it doesn't require veteran filmmakers to see and appreciate this subtle, yet ultimately important mindset.

Sha (5)
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Make no mistake, this is not going to be a classic. It's clearly a formula film, but done so well that you feel quite satisfied at the end. I hate to say it, but I shouldn't have to praise this movie so much. Yet, with the constant deterioration of romantic comedies these days, it stands head and shoulders above the rest. "Sweet Home Alabama" should be a reminder for how formula romantic comedies should be made.

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