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Sweet Home Alabama: 10th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review

Sweet Home Alabama (2002) movie poster Sweet Home Alabama

Theatrical Release: September 27, 2002 / Running Time: 109 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Andy Tennant / Writers: C. Jay Cox (screenplay), Douglas J. Eboch (story) / Songs List

Cast: Reese Witherspoon (Melanie Carmichael/Smooter/Perry), Josh Lucas (Jake Perry), Patrick Dempsey (Andrew Hennings), Candice Bergen (Mayor Kate Hennings), Mary Kay Place (Pearl Smooter), Fred Ward (Earl Smooter), Jean Smart (Stella Kay Perry), Ethan Embry (Bobby Ray Bailey), Melanie Lynskey (Lurlynn), Courtney Gains (Sheriff Wade), Mary Lynn Rajskub (Dorothea), Rhona Mitra (Tabatha Wadmore-Smith), Nathan Lee Graham (Frederick Montana), Sean Bridgers (Eldon), Fleet Cooper (Clinton), Kevin Sussman (Barry Lowenstein), Thomas Curtis (Young Jake Perry), Dakota Fanning (Young Melanie Smooter)

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It seems that Reese Witherspoon's stint on Hollywood's A-list was a brief one. Beginning as a teenager in the early 1990s, Witherspoon climbed the professional ladder, working her way up to prominent roles in movies people saw, like Pleasantville (1998). 1999 marked her arrival,
between Cruel Intentions and her role in the much-celebrated Election. The attention and accolades that Alexander Payne high school comedy won Witherspoon paved their way for her first solo vehicle and 2001's Legally Blonde was a hit both with critics and audiences.

Witherspoon's next wide release, Sweet Home Alabama, cemented her drawing power. Here was a routine romantic comedy sold on Witherspoon as leading lady. Though it struck out with critics, it grossed $127 million domestically. Until last month, its $35 million opening weekend stood as the biggest ever logged in the month of September. Witherspoon was a true movie star, seemingly ready to accept the America's Sweetheart label that Julia Roberts was about to relinquish. 2003's Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde added to the actress' strong box office streak, though people didn't care for it much. And then, that was sort of it.

There was, of course, Walk the Line, which crossed the $100 M mark, attracted much praise, and secured Witherspoon a place in the film history books with a Best Actress Oscar win. Though that award generally brings heat to a career, Witherspoon's cooled off, the result of her picking one wrong prestige project (Rendition) and not staying busy with any other high-profile films to fall back on. In a three-year stretch, the critically trashed hit Four Christmases (2008) was Witherspoon's only onscreen appearance. Since then, her movies have not fared very well, doing moderate business but less than expected in light of the $15 million salary she commands on each.

Finger pointing occurs when Jake Perry (Josh Lucas) and his wife Melanie (Reese Witherspoon) cross paths for the first time in seven years.

Ten years after its formidable theatrical release, Sweet Home Alabama makes its Blu-ray debut next month, some of its luster and promise faded with its star not quite becoming the titan of industry envisioned. It hasn't helped that Witherspoon has made little effort to challenge herself since making it big. Walk the Line now feels like a one-time departure from her standard course of middle-brow romantic comedies, which are generally several notches above Kate Hudson quality but never good enough to transcend the genre or make a meaningful impact.

Sweet really established the actress' model of mediocrity. As the film opens, life is good for Melanie Carmichael (Witherspoon). Her career as a New York City fashion designer is taking off with her very first show. And her wealthy, handsome boyfriend, mayor's son and politician Andrew Hennings (Patrick Dempsey), has just proposed to her in a grandiose, romantic fashion. Melanie accepts, but there is some unfinished business to take care of back in Pigeon Creek, the small Alabama hometown she hasn't visited in seven years.

Ranking atop her "to do" list is getting her simple country husband Jake Perry (Josh Lucas) to sign the divorce papers he's dodged for nearly a decade. Stubborn Jake is unwilling to acquiesce and reluctant to close the book on a relationship that dates back to childhood.

Being back home awakens Melanie's improbable secret past as the infamous town troublemaker nicknamed "Felony Melanie." She and the old gang pick up where they left off, as her southern drawl re-emerges along with feelings for Jake. This life is at odds with the one that Melanie has worked so hard to develop in New York and that casts some doubt over her engagement to Andrew.

Years before "Grey's Anatomy", Patrick Dempsey got a mild career revival from his role as New York politician, mayor's son, and protagonist's fiancι Andrew Hennings. Back in 2002, New York City had a lady mayor who looked like Murphy Brown (Candice Bergen).

If an alien came to our planet unfamiliar with but intrigued by the notion of a modern romantic comedy, this would be one of your best bets to demonstrate the format in its most typical form. Sweet has all the standard elements: a small town setting, a multi-generational cast, a not easily resolved love triangle formed by three attractive young people, a chipper heroine, and a flashy career demanding her attention. All of that feels like the contemporary romcom at its very essence.
It's tough to imagine a more ordinary entry to the genre than this. About the only thing to distinguish this from similar movies is the contrast of an urban professional with the country living she left behind.

Rural Alabama is certainly portrayed for laughs. Melanie's father (Fred Ward) is one of many to enjoy dressing as Confederate soldiers in elaborate Civil War battle re-enactments. Beer guzzling and babies abound. One resident places his hat over his heart for a local band's cover of the eponymous Lynyrd Skynyrd song. As you might expect, though, the South gets the last laugh.

Born in New Orleans and raised in Nashville, Witherspoon is one of the few actresses who makes for both a convincing southern gal and a big city trendsetter. She has difficulty, however, playing both in the same film, the distance between the two requiring ample suspension of disbelief for the story the movie wants to tell.

The adherence to and reinforcement of formula doesn't make Sweet Home Alabama either great or terrible. It falls squarely in between, as a moderate diversion that wouldn't come anywhere near my personal favorites list but one I wouldn't ridicule someone else for giving such a designation. To me, it is the perfect definition of a "6" out of ten. It doesn't have enough intelligence, creativity, or substance to feature higher. But the genre is plagued by so many weak entries that I couldn't possibly rank it any lower. It's more watchable than other significant 2002 films I have mixed feelings about, like Adaptation, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and Chicago. But it also has a lot less to offer than all of those movies, its ambitions grounded and compositions plain.

Sweet Home Alabama Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.35:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Portuguese, French), Dolby Surround (Thai)
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Indonesian, Malay, Vietnamese
Not Closed Captioned; Some Extras Subtitled
Release Date: November 6, 2012
Suggested Retail Price: $20.00
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap
Still available on DVD ($14.99 SRP; February 4, 2003) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Since most catalog movies coming to Blu-ray these days are not getting new bonus features (or even necessarily keeping all of their old ones), the primary source of appeal to a release like this is its feature presentation. You expect that to be flawless here on a film shot in the wake of 9/11. That isn't really the case. Sweet Home Alabama's 2.35:1 widescreen transfer is a bit rough, sporting a grainy, pale, slightly drab appearance that makes it look older than its ten years. Some sequences look better than others. Plenty are just fine. There is clearly some detail gained in the higher resolution. But the results aren't as satisfying as they should be.

The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio offers less of concern. The even mix is as crisp and weighty as it should be, without doing all that much to attract notice. Though the packaging doesn't mention it, Disney has uncharacteristically loaded the disc up with foreign dubs and subtitles.

Director Andy Tennant introduces each of the deleted scenes. Four characters share the screen in this deleted phone call scene. SHeDAISY SHeDOES it again with their "Mine All Mine" music video.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

This 10th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray retains all four of the movie's DVD extras. Hidden in the Set Up menu is an audio commentary by director Andy Tennant, who since this has not made anything other than a romantic comedy for theaters (peaking with Hitch).

He has plenty of information on visual effects, shooting locations, bits that were cut and are not preserved elsewhere on the disc, the cast, weather, clothing, music, the uncooperative dog, the real life origins of various plot points, and the conscious decision not to make one of the love interests bad. It's more rewarding than many tracks.

On the video side, everything remains in standard definition, with picture quality a bit worse than a 240p YouTube video.

Things begin with "Off the Cutting Room Floor" (17:55), eight deleted scenes each introduced by Tennant. The biggest casualty is a character named Erin (played by Katharine Towne) who is meant as a Melanie's assistant and a potential love interest to someone else.

In the same vein comes an ill-conceived alternate ending (2:24) harking back to the opening scene. It is prefaced by a Tenant introduction (0:21).

Finally, we get the 16:9 music video for "Mine All Mine" (3:51), an end credits tune performed by country sibling trio SHeDAISY. Clips from the movie turn up around the girls as they sing on the beach and in the rain.

The simple predominantly white menu plays some score over a repositioned version of the poster/cover art. The disc doesn't support bookmarks, doesn't resume playback, and doesn't even remember where you left off watching the film. The pop-up menu is useless on both the film and the extras. Why Disney refuses to make the necessary authoring improvements to put its Blu-rays on the same level as those of most other studios and DVD, I don't know.

There are no trailers for Sweet or anything else. No inserts, reverse artwork, slipcover, or disc art spruce up the ordinary Blu-ray case, whose side snap wouldn't fully close for me.

Melanie Carmichael/Perry/Smooter (Reese Witherspoon) hits the pool table back in her "Sweet Home Alabama."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Already kind of dated, Sweet Home Alabama remains an adequate romantic comedy, whose wrong turns do not quite cancel out its agreeable atmosphere. Though this was already a movie you wouldn't likely be compelled to buy more than once, Disney gives you even greater reason to hesitate with this extremely vanilla 10th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray offering nothing new, lacking some basic touches, and underwhelming with its picture quality. If you like the movie and don't already own it, this is an okay way to do so and won't set you back much if any more than the comparable DVD. But unless the film is a personal favorite, it's tough to advise spending more than a few dollars on this disc with so many better and better-priced discs available.

Buy Sweet Home Alabama from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Reese Witherspoon: How Do You Know • This Means War • Four Christmases • A Far Off Place • DreamWorks Spooky Stories
Josh Lucas: Glory Road • Father Hood • J. Edgar • Life As We Know It | Patrick Dempsey: Enchanted • Grey's Anatomy: Season One
Melanie Lynskey: Win Win | Ethan Embry: All I Want for Christmas • Vacancy | Directed by Andy Tennant: The Bounty Hunter
Romantic Comedies: The Proposal • Did You Hear About the Morgans? • Life As We Know It • Over Her Dead Body • Phenomenon
2002 on Blu-ray: The Santa Clause 2 • Spider-Man • The Ring • Men in Black II • Dirty Pretty Things

Sweet Home Alabama Songs List: Charlotte Martin - "Bring On the Day", The Freestylers - "Weekend Song", No Doubt - "Hella Good", Uncle Kracker - "To Think I Used to Love You", The Calling - "Keep Your Hands to Yourself", Cornbread - "Bright Lights, Big City", Sheryl Crow - "Long Gone Lonesome Blues", Avril Lavigne - "Falling Down", Cornbread - "Shame, Shame, Shame", Cornbread - "Sweet Home Alabama", The Charlie Daniels Band - "What This World Needs Is a Few More Rednecks", Dave Bassett - "You Got Me", Dolly Parton - "Marry Me", Ryan Adams - "Gonna Make You Love Me", Jewel - "Sweet Home Alabama", Shannon McNally - "Now That I Know", SHeDAISY - "Mine All Mine"

Buy Sweet Home Alabama: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: Amazon MP3 • iTunes Download • Amazon CD

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Reviewed October 25, 2012.



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