Other Wind
10 / December10 / December10 / December

Sweet Home Stereotype

The last movie I went to see was Sweet Home Alabama. I managed to drag David along, which I regret now. He knew he wouldn’t like it, and I should have known better. You see, when he goes to see a comedy, he wants to laugh a lot. Silly him. Most romantic comedies aren’t really that funny, at least not in a laughing ‘til it hurts kind of way, and this one is no exception. It made us chuckle often and even laugh right out a few times, but that was it. I, at least, was intrigued by the romance, but poor David didn’t even care whether the lovebirds flew or dropped.

To make things worse, most of the humor in this movie relies on exaggerating southern stereotypes that already irritate us. While most of the southern accents didn’t trigger the fake button in my brain, a few of them are horrible. If you can’t teach an actor how to speak like they really come from the south instead of like someone struggling to do a bad impression of the secret child of Scarlet O’Hara and Jethro Bodine, why not get a real southerner to play the part? Better yet, why not get a real southerner—from the right southern region— to play the part in the first place? (I know, I’m so naive.) I suppose halfway believable accents aren’t important to most people—many don’t even notice—but when I hear a fake one, I’m distracted for the whole scene.

In my opinion, the movie hits certain aspects of southern culture on the nose. Civil War re-enactments do occur and studying/remembering the Civil War is popular in the south. (Although, since I’ve never been to a re-enactment, I can’t say whether or not the one in the movie is realistic.) Also, the south (like any region) is full of beautiful historic homes in which many people take pride. And I must say, many southerners I know, even ones who aren’t from Alabama, do tend to rouse a bit, smile, and sing along whenever Skynard’s Sweet Home Alabama comes on the radio. (Here in Tennessee, we also get that way with Rocky Top, but I bet people from a lot of places for which songs have been written or named, do the same.)

The movie gets other things wrong. Here are two examples of it missing the mark, or I’ll even say purposefully exaggerating or fabricating just to force laughs at how strange and backwards us country folk are:

In the movie, one of the southern gals gushes to the main character (a trendy New York fashion designer) about Jackie Smith’s line of clothing, as if people in small town Alabama don’t understand the differences between the clothes available at K-Mart or Wal-mart and those on a New York runway. A person in the south is just as likely as a person in any region to know the names of high-end fashion designers and to follow fashion trends. Also, many people (from every region) shop at mega discount stores, but they know the difference between Jackie Smith and Versace. People who buy Jackie Smith at K-Mart do so because they like it or because they don’t want to spend half a paycheck on one article of clothing, not because they equate it with Ralph Lauren.

When asked where to find an Automatic Teller Machine, a bank teller in the movie says something to the effect of, “Oh, those thingies. Joe Bob doesn’t want one seein’ how they detract from personal interaction.” Southern people, even in small towns, are accustomed to ATMs. While some banks may not have them (I don’t know, since I haven’t been to every bank in the south), I’m sure that most people, and certainly most bank tellers, are familiar enough with their existence that they don’t have to start phrases about them with “Oh, those thingies.” Also, the south may be a polite place in which locals like to talk to each other, but, in general, southerners are in a hurry when they need their money too.

I know these are minor grievances, but to me, if a joke is based on a lie, it isn’t funny. In spite of its over-reliance on fake country bumpkinisms, I enjoyed the movie and liked the characters. (Although real country bumpkinisms can be funny, they are often overused too.) It’s a typical romantic comedy, and to me, those are usually at least mildly entertaining. One other thing the movie gets right is how the main character, who has fled her oppressive and downright silly Alabama hometown for wide-open and chic New York City, is embarrassed by her roots. I think some southerners of my generation have an inferiority complex and dread the comments and looks their accents inspire when they travel to other regions. Even though most non-southerners are nice and try to withhold their stereotypical judgments (at least in our presence), many still condescend. We’re just too cute, I guess.

I wish more mainstream movies would refrain from flashing stereotypes around for laughs. I know stereotypes can be funny, but when they are all you have to go on, as they are with many people who’ve never spent much time in the south, you won’t ever see very far.