"One of them is likely to make you laugh."

8 WOMEN & SWEET HOME ALABAMA

An Illusion review by Joan Ellis


Two new comedies have opened – “8 Women” is playing the art house circuit; “Sweet Home Alabama” sashayed into the multiplexes –exactly where each belongs.  At opposite ends of the comic pole, one of them is likely to make you laugh.     

“8 Women” is resplendent with legendary French actresses who adopt straight faces to deliver a play that is part farce, part satire - an Agatha Christie murder mystery laced with modern allusions and played as a stage play in the living room of a snowbound house.  All the Christie devices are there:  a horn handled dagger, a victim, and snow too deep for passage.  Having agreed to tell the truth, the characters drop small revelations with big implications – slow motion confessions that generate laughter.  

Mamy (Danielle Darrieux) is, for the moment, wheelchair bound; Gaby (Catherine Deneuve) is gorgeous and humorless, married to the dead man in the upstairs bedroom that has been locked, by one of her daughters, Catherine (Ludivine Sagnier), pending the arrival of the police who can’t be reached because the single phone has been ripped from the wall.  Gaby’s other daughter Suzon (Virginie Ledoyen) keeps the investigation on track while guarding a secret of her own.  Gaby’s sister Augustine (Isabelle Huppert) is the plain virginal aunt who will no doubt unbutton her real self.  Add two suspect maids, and the picture is complete. 

 The story moves forward slowly by revelations that add a clue here, one there, to let us get to know the suspects.  No one smiles in this movie, not even when each character in turn adds a little information by bursting unexpectedly into Woody Allenesque song.  It’s an actor’s holiday of a movie, perhaps even a holiday for an audience who wants to watch the actors at play, but the audience isn’t entirely engaged, and Agatha Christie’s reputation is definitely not endangered. 

 “Sweet Home Alabama” is written and acted in an almost endearing mood of comic exaggeration.    After ten minutes of watching Melanie (Reese Witherspoon) live her overblown fast track life as a Manhattan fashion designer, it seems a sure bet the decision between New York and Alabama will be no contest. 

Sporting a Tiffany rock, Melanie is newly engaged to Andrew (Patrick Dempsey), son of New York’s mayor (Candice Bergen).  Melanie has some unfinished business down south – hello to mom and dad for the first time in seven years, and a long-delayed signature on divorce papers to end her first marriage to Jake (Josh Lucas), a small detail she hasn’t mentioned to anyone in her New York life.  When Melanie yells at Jake, “You dumb, stubborn, red neck hick!” we know everything will be O.K. in Alabama.

 Josh Lucas and Patrick Dempsey are excellent as the men in Melanie’s life; the supporting cast is terrific, and Reese Witherspoon is simply a wacky and wonderful force of nature.  Cheerful and confident to the core, Witherspoon’s Melanie is equally at home in Manhattan and Pigeon Creek.  The choice is hers.

 


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