Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Crazy in Alabama

By Steve Davis

OCTOBER 25, 1999: 

D: Antonio Banderas; with Melanie Griffith, David Morse, Lucas Black, Cathy Moriarity, Meat Loaf Aday, Rod Steiger, Richard Schiff, Robert Wagner, Noah Emmerich, Fannie Flagg. (PG-13, 111 min.)

There's something deliciously off-kilter about Melanie Griffith in Crazy in Alabama: her breathy cadence, that coy uncertainty in her voice, and her delicate beauty all perfectly embody the slightly addled Lucille Vinson, a housewife in a heap of trouble after murdering her no-good husband, a bore named Chester. Savoring freedom for the first time in her adult life, Lucille hits the road west, one eye looking back at the life she's left behind and the other looking toward Hollywood, to fulfill her lifelong dream of TV stardom. On the way there, she robs a bar, tangles with a cop, and wins a bundle at the roulette wheel, her journey of self-liberation culminating in a guest spot on Bewitched. Lucille doesn't see herself as a fugitive from justice; to the contrary, she thinks of herself as an emancipated woman finally getting her due. A sane proposition, of sorts, until you consider the matter of Chester's decapitated head in the hatbox that Lucille carries around everywhere she goes .... Adapted from Mark Childress' novel of the same name, Crazy in Alabama isn't just a comedy with feminist overtones. Taking place, for the most part, during the tumultuous civil rights movement in 1965 Alabama, it's also an education in racial injustice for the impressionable Peter Joseph (Peejoe, for short), Lucille's beloved 13-year-old nephew. The film's two storylines ­ Lucille's picaresque misadventures and Peejoe's social awakening ­ run parallel, converging only at the end when a captured Lucille must stand trial back in her hometown. (The usually Method-maddened Steiger is a hoot as the unconventional judge who presides at her hearing.) Although sweet and sentimental in a way that never gets under your skin, Crazy in Alabama is a jumbled mess in many respects, just as the novel upon which it is based. (Childress also wrote the film's screenplay, which is faithful to its source to a fault.) You can't immerse yourself in either of the two narratives for very long because the intercutting between the storylines allows for little more than a superficial emotional connection to anything. There's also something that feels worn about Childress' themes: Frankly put, To Kill a Mockingbird and Auntie Mame covered this ground more memorably. Still, there's much to enjoy here as long as your expectations aren't too high. Also, the fact that Crazy in Alabama marks the directorial debut of Antonio Banderas, the Latin heartthrob married to Griffith, may pique your interest. How does he fare behind the lens? Let's say that his style can be a bit black-and-white, particularly in those scenes of racial conflict, but he exhibits some promise as a filmmaker. If he and Griffith can find another vehicle aptly suited to the range of their talents, who knows? Maybe both of their careers will find a second wind.

2.5 Stars

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