Melanie Carmichael (Reese Witherspoon) is not who she appears to be. Her storybook romance with Andrew Hennings (Patrick Dempsey), the son of New York City mayor Kate Hennings (Candace Bergen) is punctuated by an over-the-top marriage proposal in a fully-staffed jewelry store. Both Melanie's career as a fashion designer and her romantic life would be equally nauseating if they weren't cover-ups for her true identity: a rough-and-tumble Alabama girl who's still hitched to handsome Jake Perry (Josh Lucas). She's not a covert agent attempting to infiltrate her boyfriend's political connections. She's just a good liar who's ashamed of her redneck past. But as much as she tries, Melanie just can't shed her old skin.
Sweet Home Alabama (2002) moves along at a good clip during most of its 108-minute running time. Early twists and turns keep things interesting as the spunky Melanie is torn between two men, but it's an easy choice for her: Jake represents everything she hates about her old life and their turbulent marriage will be over once he signs the divorce papers. After she left for the city seven years ago, Jake cleaned up his act and now seems comfortable with adulthood, but he and Melanie trade plenty of enjoyable jabs early on. Meanwhile, the aloof Andrew thinks she's down south planning their wedding...and soon enough, Melanie's layered lies catch up to her. It's familiar territory for any disciple of romantic comedies, and the film's confident demeanor almost pulls off the illusion that we're seeing something less conventional.
Unfortunately, Sweet Home Alabama falls into countless genre trappings as the film wears on. The "will-they-or-won't-they" relationship between Melanie and Jake really wears thin by the third act. A meeting between the rural and urban families quickly turns into a stereotypical clash of city slickers vs. rednecks. A last-minute change of heart at the altar is almost pitiful in its flailing laziness. Even the wicked mother-in-law gets punched in the face (by another woman, so it's OK!) without any major legal repercussions. This turns out to be rom-com in its most watered-down form...but to its credit, Sweet Home Alabama is somewhat salvaged by a charismatic cast, sun-drenched locales and a breezy first and second act.
Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, Sweet Home Alabama debuts on Blu-Ray with a relatively by-the-numbers effort from Touchstone Home Entertainment. The technical presentation is good but not overly impressive, while owners of the previous DVD will be happy to know that all of the existing extras have been ported over (for better or worse, and there's no new stuff). Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Sweet Home Alabama looked good on DVD when it was originally released, sporting a clean 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer by a studio not generally known for them. This Blu-Ray looks to come from the same master, so it's a modestly proportionate upgrade that will neither disappoint nor amaze. The film's natural color palette looks good, image detail is fine and black levels are consistent, while a fine layer of grain has been preserved just for good measure. There's a notable amount of digital noise on display, though, and it's troublesome enough during certain scenes to become an eyesore. This 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer still represents an improvement over the original DVD, but it's not quite as strong as it could've been.
NOTE: This review's screen caps were taken from the DVD release and do not represent Blu-Ray's native 1080p resolution.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and obviously sounds richer and fuller than the 2002 DVD, but I was again expecting slightly more than we get here. The highlights definitely make themselves known, but a slightly more ambitious or aggressive mix would've helped to sell the urban and rural locale differences a little better. As it stands, though, the dialogue is perfectly crisp, rear channels are used occasionally and LFE activity is strong at times. Optional English (SDH), Spanish, French and Portuguese subtitles are included during the film....and all applicable extras, despite what the packaging says.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
No frills, just plain-wrap menu designs with static backgrounds and smooth navigation. This one-disc release is housed in a standard keepcase and includes no inserts of any kind. The cover art basically recycles the DVD and poster designs, save for a new "10th Anniversary Edition" banner at the top.
Everything from the original DVD release; nothing more, nothing less. These recycled extras include an Audio Commentary
with director Andy Tennant, a selection of Alternate & Deleted Scenes
(8 clips, 18 minutes total) with introductions by Tennant, a terrible Alternate Ending
(3 minutes) with introduction by you-know who, and an obligatory Music Video
by SHeDAISY entitled "Mine All Mine" (4 minutes). This is a light but occasionally informative selection of bonus features, and everything except the trailer and music video has been paired with optional English (SDH), Spanish, French and Portuguese subtitles.
Sweet Home Alabama is breezy and enjoyable at times, but the film's featherweight story and predictable plot (save for the twisting first act) don't elevate it above standard rom-com fare. It's still a safe pick for date movie night, though, thanks to a handful of solid performances, interesting character dynamics and enough sour to cancel out some the saccharine. Touchstone's Blu-Ray release is strictly average, serving up an lukewarm A/V presentation with all the plain-wrap extras from the DVD release. Die-hard fans will undoubtedly enjoy the upgrade, but everyone else should dip their toes in the water first. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey from Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.