A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Sweet Home Alabama stars Reese Witherspoon as Melanie, a New York City fashion designer who returns to her rural Alabama town. Unlike so many movies in which Southerners are portrayed as little more than punchlines or bullying bigots, even the minor characters here have some depth and rise above typical stereotypes, even if the movie sometimes comes off as trying a little too hard to prove its Dixieness. Also encouraging: When a closeted gay man is outed in public, his friends offer positive models of acceptance. On the iffier side, you can expect occasional profanity, including "s--t," "d--k," "bitch," "piss," "bastard," and "t-t." There are references to teen pregnancy, and Melanie gets drunk at a bar: She acts belligerent, vomits, and passes out. Drinking, vandalism, and minor crimes are portrayed as evidence of a free spirit.
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What's the story?
In SWEET HOME ALABAMA, Melanie Carmichael (Reese Witherspoon) is a fashion designer just breaking through to the big time with her first solo show. Not only is it a huge success, but she also gets a swooningly romantic marriage proposal from a gorgeous, thoughtful, supportive man (Patrick Dempsey) who adores her -- and who happens to be the son of the mayor of New York (Candice Bergen). It's the 21st-century Cinderella dream come true, except for one hitch -- literally. Way back when she was just Melanie Cooter of Pigeon Creek, Alabama, she got herself hitched to her childhood sweetheart, and now she needs to get herself unhitched so that she can be free to marry Prince Charming. So, she goes back home for the first time in seven years, and she finds out that you can take the girl out of Pigeon Creek, but you can't take Pigeon Creek out of the girl. Her accent comes back, and, more disconcertingly, so do some of her feelings for her husband, Jake (Josh Lucas).
Is it any good?
Witherspoon has the charm, sparkle, and impeccable comic timing to keep an entire movie afloat and make it look effortless. It takes every bit of her talent and all-around adorability to keep this romantic comedy aloft, considering the considerable weight of its uncertain script. Without her, even the enticing premise and an exceptionally able supporting cast would sink under the weight of a plot that somehow manages to be both predictable and disjointed. The movie spends too much time reuniting Melanie with people from her past. It also spends much too much time introducing us to all kinds of adorable cracker stereotypes, and on a tired plot twist about Melanie's exaggeration of her family's social standing.
A terrific soundtrack helps, with a cover of the irresistible title tune and delicious songs by country greats. Lucas and Dempsey are both dreamy enough that even movie-savvy viewers may find it hard to pick the winner.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about "opposite" places and people. How does the movie use the opposites of New York City and rural Alabama to reveal not only differences in people, but similarities as well? How might this message be relevant today, during a time when such differences are routinely exploited by politicians and pundits?
What are the ways in which regions of the United States have been or continue to be stereotyped in movies and TV shows? How does the news media often portray different regions?
How do characters in the movie demonstrate tolerance and acceptance?
- In theaters: September 27, 2002
- On DVD or streaming: February 4, 2003
- Cast: Candice Bergen, Josh Lucas, Reese Witherspoon
- Director: Andy Tennant
- Studio: Touchstone Pictures
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 109 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: language and sexual references
- Last updated: June 2, 2020
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