Chaos Attraction

Sweet Home Alabama

2003-06-30, 7:37 p.m.

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Note: This entire entry is about the movie Sweet Home Alabama. The entire entry will be filled with spoilers not only from the movie, but from the DVD extra features. Read on at your own risk.

A trivial thing to talk about today, but the one not-totally-horrible thing about yesterday was sitting around watching Sweet Home Alabama at the parents'. They think it's a great movie, but... I've got problems with it.

(Why do I feel like jette alluva sudden?)

I am a sucker for romantic comedies, and clearly, they tried to make something good, but...there's three things that really bother me about this movie, and unfortunately, those things are like, the entire basis of the movie.

1. I'm not believing in the love story between Jake and Melanie. Really, wouldn't that be the key to the whole thing, the entire reason that we're watching this movie is to see this couple get together, that we're supposed to want to get back together, that we're supposed to think are (in Sleepless in Seattle parlance) MFEO?

I suppose this worked for my parents, but I just did not see it at all.

Here's the basic plot of the flick: Melanie grows up in small town Alabama, pulling pranks and the like with Jake, who's been in love with her since they were ten and got struck by lightning. (The lightning thing is a Big Thing in this movie.) She gets knocked up, they have to get married, the wedding is absolutely godawful, she (luckily, really, given the context) miscarries and presumably flees town, the marriage, and everybody sometime after that. She goes off to New York and becomes a famous fashion designer and gets engaged to a sweet as pie JFK Jr. type, only, well, she has to uh, talk her husband into signing the divorce papers before that can go on.

Obviously, the entire point of a movie called Sweet Home Alabama is to set her up with the country rat instead of the city rat. You know that from the getgo. And yet, I was so not rooting for them as a couple. They didn't have much chemistry, and beyond that, they seemed to be pretty miserable around each other even when they weren't supposed to be. They're both pissed off, which is understandable, but what bothers me is that you never find out why on earth these two were in love in the first place, other than the lightning-at-10 thing. You never find out anything good about their past romantically- sounds like the most fun they had involved exploding cats. Between not having a clue what they used to be like as a couple and their misery now, I just couldn't see why on earth she would go back to him beyond the plot telling her to. Hell, at the end he asks her why she came to him, and I was just as eager to know. Sadly, she really didn't have an answer beyond ripping off the one he gave when he was 10.

About the only sympathetic-vaguely-couple moment there is is when he tells her that when she got knocked up, he'd thought a baby was going to be an adventure...and now he realizes that a baby would have been her only adventure. *sniff* At that moment, I could see them as say, exes who stay friendly with each other at least. But as a couple, together again? No.

2. I just don't like Jake. Yes, I know he's supposed to start out cranky and crusty, but he doesn't get all THAT much better. He doesn't have much personality beyond that and the occasional funny moment (see the bit about the cat). Her dad's in favor of her being with him, and I keep wondering why. The Big Plot Revelations regarding his emotions well, just don't come off as all that big and revelatory to me as they're supposed to. Honestly, I think the filmmakers intended the wooing to be done via his imitation-Matthew-McConaghey looks (honestly, he and MM could be in one of Fametracker's Hollywood Gene Project articles. Hell, he's already in a 2 Stars, 1 Slot with another lookalike!) more than any lines or acting.

3. The other man is at least as deserving, if not more so. The problem with the woman-caught-between-two-men love story is that not only do we have to be convinced that she's meant to be with the one she's not with, but that she's not meant to be with the one she is with. There's several ways one can do this. You can make the other man into an asshole and the girl just doesn't see it, you can make him boring and "settled for", or you can make him a nice guy, but just not quite the exact right fit for the girl. A great example of the last one is Walter in the aforementioned Sleepless in Seattle. He's a nice guy, a bit dorky and has a lot of allergies, but not deserving of dumpage either. And yet, we can see why he and Annie shouldn't be together in that way- they seem more like best buds or a settled old couple already than people in a romance. So it's okay when he gets dumped, and hell, even he's okay with it.

See, that's a crucial thing with these "she must decide" plots- whether you make him a villain or just unsuited, you have to also make the audience happy that she didn't end up with that guy.

SHA fails miserably at this. They decided, for a change, to go with the nice guy aspect, and set her up with the perfect man. And I don't just mean that Andrew's rich and handsome, either. He's a genuinely sweet fellow that supports the hell out of Melanie, backs her up on her decisions, stands up to his harridan mother for her, and hell, I'd date him and I'm not even into JFK Jr. types.

But Mr. Perfect here is not allowed to get the girl in this movie. I almost hoped for a bit that Jake would let her go and they'd be friends of a sort while she happily married someone else, but noooooo. And it is a bummer, because he is a nice guy and deserves better than the traditional public dump in front of family, friends, media and political animals. One can't be happy that she breaks this wedding off because she's well, shitting on a decent fellow that hasn't done anything wrong except not get the right part in casting/meet her too late, however you choose to read that one.

I can come up with no reason why he and she would ultimately not be suited to be together, and I think this is a problem. Hell, if he'd turned out to be a womanizer behind her back or secretly homophobic or had some kind of flaw, who'd mind? But he doesn't. And the filmmakers were very deliberate in making sure he had no flaws, even. On the DVD you find out that they originally had another character in the movie, Melanie's blueblooded intern that Andrew was supposed to end up with afterwards. (He still does, you just don't see it.) They actually cut this woman out of the movie entirely because there was a scene where the intern is staying at Melanie's pulling an Eve Harrington and trying on her clothes while Andrew is on the phone. She shows him a few dresses, he says "okay, wear that one," and she turns around to reveal she ain't wearing nothing but undies. Skank-ASS. Not surprisingly, test audiences read this as "Andrew and Erin are sleeping together." At which point they cut her role from the movie because they did not want to imply that Andrew would do such a thing.

But really, why not leave it in? Why not give the audience a reason to not feel sorry for poor dumped perfect Andrew? If not cheating on his fiancee, something else. Because really, as I've seen the movie, the only advantage Jake seems to have over Andrew is that Jake has the nicer mother. And why she wouldn't pick him instead of Mr. Surly Pants, I don't know.

And that's why this movie goes wrong for me.


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