I love a good Reese Witherspoon rom-com, and even the mediocre ones; from Legally Blonde to This Means War to Home Again and everything in between. But I have a particular soft spot for Sweet Home Alabama. I've probably seen it more than any other Reese Witherspoon movie, rom-com or not. It was one of the first DVDs I owned in high school and I watched it countless times throughout both high school and college. There's something about Witherspoon's Melanie that I've always liked and the cast is full of character actors I adore: Melanie Lynskey, Ethan Embry, Jean Smart and more. Plus, both men Melanie chooses between are decent guys and they're nice eye candy too. However, as I rewatched the movie this time around, after having not seen it in a couple years, the relationship that stuck out to me was the one Melanie has with her hometown and the people in it, not her romantic relationships with the men in her life.
When I first watched the movie as a 16 year old I remember not fully understanding why Melanie had such a sense of disdain for her tiny hometown at the start of the film. I was growing up in a suburban village (that's right, village, it didn't become a town until the 2010 census) on the edge of Columbus, Ohio. We were far enough out though that I grew up around corn fields, rednecks doing chew and pickup trucks. At that point in my life I assumed I'd always be friends with my friends from high school and college was a couple years away so I hadn't fully considered the idea of moving away. Then later when I would watch the movie in college I was on the opposite side of the fence. Of course, Melanie needed to get the hell out of Greenville. That town was too small for her talent and ambition. At that point I didn't fully understand the southern-ification that Melanie undergoes throughout the film. Her accent gets thicker and she embraces more of her hometown culture. My interpretation in my college years was that she was regressing a bit to fit in with Jake and his world.
Now that I'm an adult and have more perspective on how complicated your sense of home can be though, I see Melanie's relationship with her hometown in a very different light. She can have both the appreciation of her hometown and the love of her life in the city. She even expresses this feeling in the movie when she and Jake are talking in the dog cemetery. “I'm happy in New York, Jake. But then I come down here and this fits too.” He asks her “does it have to be one or the other?” It takes Melanie another half an hour to realize this fully but I like the subtle ways the movie shows her embracing both places she now considers home. She tells Andrew she wants to have the wedding in Alabama but we see scenes of her planning her hometown wedding while back in New York. There's also the way Melanie integrates her “Yankee” friends into her life in Alabama when they come down for the wedding. It's refreshing seeing them in her parents' home interacting without judgment as a contrast to Candice Bergen's snob. The photo snapshot epilogue, though, is where we see that Melanie and Jake have made a life together in New York that includes bringing Alabama to them like visits from her parents and the opening of a New York branch of Jake's glass shop. Home is no longer one place for Melanie. She doesn't have to choose. She can have the best of both places she loves. I see this in my own life, too. I absolutely don't want to live in my hometown but I'm happy to visit frequently and take pride in the little place I grew up. I've embraced the city girl that I am with an appreciation for the small town roots I have, just like Melanie. We can all choose to find our “sweet home” wherever we like and embrace the capacity to love more than one home.
Amanda is the host of Amanda's Picture Show a Go Go and co-host of Culture Pop a Go Go. You should visit her website at amandaagogo.comand follow her on social media at @MandaAiley @AmandasPicShow and @CulturePopAGoGo
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