The new romantic comedy Home Again features Reese Witherspoon returning to her most iconic role as saucy southern belle Melanie Smooter in this sequel to 2002 smash hit Sweet Home Alabama. But Home Again isn’t just a retread – the movie has a streak of darkness and maturity just beneath its familiarly perky surface.
For those who’ve forgotten the plot of the original Sweet Home Alabama (all two of you!), it was the tale of a hotshot New York fashion designer’s (Witherspoon) journey home to obtain a long delayed divorce from her ne’er do well childhood sweetheart of a husband (Josh Lucas) so that she can marry the next president of the United States (Patrick Dempsey aka network television’s Dr. McDreamy). But Melanie discovers she still loves her husband (Josh Lucas), who is actually an accomplished glass sculptor with ambitions of making it in New York just like Melanie.
Home Again flashes forward fifteen years later to see Melanie and her husband (Josh Lucas) happily married, financially successful, but losing a long battle against the fickle goddess of fertility. Though they desperately want children, every method they’ve attempted to initiate a successful pregnancy has failed.
But Melanie is a go-getter and won’t give up. Though her womb cannot support life, she is determined to find a surrogate to carry her pregnancy to term. But not just any surrogate – Melanie believes the woman who gives birth to her child must be a southern belle just like herself.
The desire to maintain a sense of heritage takes Melanie and her husband (Josh Lucas) back to Alabama once again in search of a host body for their unborn baby. They soon find more than they bargained for when they meet Charlotte Beauchamp (Elle Fanning) in a chance encounter at the local bowling alley slash gun club.
Melanie and Charlotte initially butt heads over everything. Charlotte’s saucy attitude drives Melanie up the wall. And she can’t stand Charlotte’s vivacious flirting with her man (Josh Lucas). But after a night of drinking and singing country songs at the local honky tonky bar, Melanie and Charlotte strike up an unlikely friendship.
Melanie sees more of herself in Charlotte than she was willing to admit at first, and decides Charlotte could be the perfect surrogate. And Charlotte enthusiastically agrees to bear Melanie’s child after hearing she’ll be paid enough money to get the hell out of small town Alabama for good.
The scenes dealing with the process of artificial insemination are funny, poignant and educational. I personally knew nothing about the procedure and now after seeing the film I know more than I ever could have imagined about the science of creating life.
Once the the baby’s in the oven (as the old Alabama expression goes), Melanie and her husband (Josh Lucas) try a million madcap tricks to get Charlotte to quit drinking and smoking. (Charlotte protests: “What else is there to do in Alabama? Tell me that Mr. and Mrs. New York Big Shot!”)
It’s all fun and games until Melanie receives an ominous letter. The letter is from an old doctor Melanie once knew growing up who has since retired to a ranch outside of town. The reclusive Dr. Rountree (Sam Elliott) requests Melanie pay him a visit. Melanie goes to meet the quirky hermit, who prefers riding horses on his ranch to any human interaction.
Along with a generous helping of homespun wisdom, Dr. Rountree reveals a dark secret that rocks Melanie’s world. Back when he was still a practicing obstetrician, Rountree delivered the baby Melanie had when she was fifteen years old. Then he performed hypnosis on her to rid her of trauma of giving the baby up for adoption.
Dr. Rountree felt he had done the right thing up until he heard about the artificial insemination of Charlotte. But now, reluctantly, he feels compelled to tell Melanie that Charlotte is her long lost daughter that she put up for adoption all those years ago.
This is undeniably the most dramatic and emotional moment in the movie, and Reese Witherspoon and Sam Elliott leave it all on the mat. They are both heavy hitter actors and you can tell by how much laughter and tears they are able to generate when put to the test.
Melanie and her husband (Josh Lucas) have to come to terms with their parenthood, but they can’t fathom having to raise a child who is both their daughter and granddaughter at the same time. The movie deftly switches back into comedy mode as they realize the fetus inside of their daughter has to be aborted.
Unfortunately, it’s pretty hard to get an abortion in Alabama, as the soon-to-be-grandparents quickly realize. But in one dazzling scene, Melanie’s husband (Josh Lucas) is struck by lightning as he plants metal rods in the beach to create more of his famous glass sculptures. That’s when it hits him: they should bring their daughter back to New York City to get the abortion.
The movie concludes with a scene that’s heartfelt and funny in equal measure. At a fancy clinic in Brooklyn, Melanie and her husband (Josh Lucas) hold Charlotte’s hand and crack jokes as the procedure is performed just in the nick of time. And though we see her phone vibrating, Melanie never lets on that the zealously pro-life Dr. Rountree is calling over and over again to try to stop them from going through with the abortion.
As the credits roll, we hear Dr. Rountree’s angry lunatic ravings left on Melanie’s voicemail over the familiar riffs of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” I say they are familiar because the song is played at least seventeen times throughout the movie. I lost count at a certain point, and honestly that’s one of my biggest complaints about the movie.
TL;DR – Home Again gathers a talented crowd of rom-com veterans on both sides of the camera for a charming yet surprisingly weighty follow up to one of the most beloved rom-coms of all time.
What the rest of the critics are saying:
“Watch this film for some turn-off-your-brain prettiness. Be prepared, however, to rethink all your reproductive choices afterward.” – Moira MacDonald, Seattle Times
“A bubbly brunch mimosa you drink up before the fizz is gone, then chase it with a Bloody Mary, followed by a few Moscow Mules and Long Island Iced Tea and by that point you should be ready to pass out.” – Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly
“Reese Witherspoon is back, baby! And she’s better than ever!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com
“The story is told cleanly, the characters are engaging and a few sequences (the meeting with Dr. Rountree, the pregnancy termination scene) are cut together brightly. However, I didn’t care for the glib way in which the filmmakers chose to depict abortion. ” – “Deaf” Smith Zuzax, Amarillo Globe News
“Home Again is a film with its heart in the right place. It also has the guts to take a unabashedly pro-abortion stance, which is refreshing in otherwise lighthearted rom-com.” – Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic
“It’s a flighty screwball scenario told with thrift-shop economy. But the abortion twist threw me for a loop.” – Radheyan Simonpillai, NOW Toronto
“A situational comedy that is transgressive yet sweetly predictable.” – Vang Anh Trung Nguyên, New York Daily News
“Shame on Abortion-loving murderers in Hollywood for producing this insipid trash.” – Adam Yoshida, Unqualified Reservations
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