If you are looking for a good vision of the New South and the prodigal returning, don’t look here.

She was leaving to make it, because her dreams were bigger than a job in the mill, a double-wide and a Trans Am in the yard. So before the ink on her diploma dried, she hit the road out of town.


“Sweet Home Alabama” is a film about that person.


Her name is Melanie Carmichael, and as the film opens we see her preparing for a showing of her new fashion line. She is not only successful, but also wooed by Andrew, the son of the mayor of New York. He proposes to her in Tiffany’s, causing the tension of the story.


Before she went to New York, Melanie was “Felony Melanie” from a small burg in Alabama. She tried to shake loose not only the little town, but also a husband she had yet to divorce. Jake is that husband, and when we first meet him he drips of all the charm of most Southern rogues that speak in a honeyed drawl but are as sorry as the day is long. Melanie and Jake became attached in childhood, and Jake had the good manners to get Melanie pregnant in the back of his pickup on graduation night.


Add to the mix: Melanie’s father and mother, who live in a single-wide (they call it a double-wide, but the Yankees who made this movie don’t know what they’re talking about); a group of friends that spends most of its leisure time down at the local roadhouse, with children in tow; a Civil War re-enactment; and a street dance.


This is the South as imagined by people who don’t know the South. The movie is sweet and sentimental. Jake is not what he seems to be. Andrew turns out to be something we would imagine him to be. Melanie does what we can’t imagine she would. 


Watching the movie, you are struck by the fact that this can’t be real life. Those who leave never return. Thomas Wolfe was right when he said you couldn’t come home again. When folks do return, they get the “delirium tremors” after being there for 24 hours. Then they have to get out of town and back to the city as fast as possible. 


There are some smiles in the movie, but they wear thin quickly. The ending is truly something out of Hollywood and not from reality. It is a shame that this is the product we see, because a town hell raiser coming back is such a rich idea that it could make a better story than what’s here.


If you are looking for a good vision of the New South and the prodigal returning, don’t look here. 


Mike Parnell is pastor of Burgaw Baptist Church in Burgaw, N.C.


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language and sexual references

Director: Andy Tennant

Writer: C. Jay Cox

Cast: Melanie: Reese Witherspoon; Jake: Josh Lucas; Andrew: Patrick Dempsey; Earl: Fred Ward; Pearl: Mary Kay Place; Stella Kay: Jean Smart; Kate: Candice Bergen.

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