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Witherspoon Reconnects With Southern Roots in Romantic Comedy <i>Sweet Home Alabama</i> - 2002-09-27

Reese Witherspoon stars in a new romantic comedy as a small-town gal who succeeds in the big city, but finds her heart back home where she grew up. Alan Silverman has a look at Sweet Home Alabama.

It seems like Melanie has it all. She's New York's newest hot clothing designer and she's engaged to the big city's most eligible bachelor. However, before they can get married, she has to tidy up one little detail.

It turns out she's still married to her first husband: her childhood sweetheart from back in Sweet Home Alabama.

Reluctantly, Melanie goes back home to the tiny southern town where she grew up to get the divorce papers signed. What she finds, though, is that the big city may give her everything except what she really needs to be happy.

Reese Witherspoon stars as Melanie and says she was determined to avoid movie stereotypes because of her southern roots, she came to Hollywood by way of Tennessee; but Witherspoon says it also made the character's journey seem very real to her.

"I grew up southern," she explains. "I grew up in Nashville, Tennesse, so it was important for me to represent my own upbringing with dignity, but also celebrate to the eccentricities of being southern."

"The shame that this character feels about her upbringing is very similar to the shame that I felt about mine," Witherspoon says. "Whenever I would go places people would say 'oh, don't y'all walk around barefoot and aren't you married to your cousin?' for a while I was embarrassed to tell people I was from Tennessee; but I think it's universal and all young people go through that rejection of their parents or the place they're from or their upbringing. You have to give it up or reject it in order, ultimately, to learn who you are. That's what I really liked about this movie."

Josh Lucas co-stars as the hometown sweetheart who refuses to give up. Another native southerner, Arkansas-born Lucas believes the film avoids the broad brush clichés with which Hollywood usually paints rural Americans, especially in the south.

"I think Hollywood portrays small town life and, in particular, small town southern life in a way that is so cliched," says Lucas. "People have no teeth and are stupid and all the different things. I think what's interesting is that most of the characters in this movie turn out to have a greater complexity than, I think, is average hollywood storytelling. I'm proud of that and I thought a lot about that because coming from the south it was important to me."

In most romantic comedies, one of the suitors would turn out to be a cad; but in Sweet Home Alabama, both men are good guys and Reese Witherspoon says the way her character behaves, audiences might decide she doesn't deserve either of them.

"I think the closer you stay to reality, the more people can relate," she says. "Ultimately, I'm not scared of being unlikeable because I meet a lot of unlikeable people and I relate to fallibility. The particular transformation my character makes in this film is she goes from being a person who is very self-obsessed and aware of how people perceive her and she learns, by getting back to her roots, that that's not really who she is and who she really wants to be."

Patrick Dempsey plays the New York fiancé; Candice Bergen is his mother, the crafty mayor of New York City. Sweet Home Alabama takes its title from the hit song and the soundtrack features country star Jewel's cover version of the Lynard Skynard rock anthem.