A backwoods Alabama boy named Peejoe -short for Peter Joseph- gets a quick education in grown-up matters like freedom in 1965. The catalyst is an unlikely source - his glamorous, eccentric Aunt Lucille, who escapes from her abusive husband and takes off for Hollywood to pursue her dreams of TV stardom. Written by
Decent performances and well made, but contains too complex of a script. **1/2 (out of four)
CRAZY IN ALABAMA / (1999) **1/2 (out of four)
By Blake French:
"Crazy in Alabama" is actually very well constructed; with good performances by a strong supporting cast, including David Morse ("The Green Mile"), Rod Steiger ("End of Days")" Meat Loaf Aday ("Fight Club"), and a compelling leading performance by director Antonio Banderas' wife, Melanie Griffith. Based on the novel by Mark Childress, who also wrote the screenplay, the movie suffers not from poor quality of filmmaking, but from the filmmakers trying to cram way to much material in the 111 minute movie.
The performers are hard at work here, but they can not possibly conquer the problems the production experiences due to the overcrowded script, which actually includes three separate stories of equal importance. The first details a woman named Lucille (Melanie Griffith), who dreams of becoming a famous actress in Hollywood after chopping off her cruel husband's head. She commits the murderous act to escape his overbearing clutches. "There are a lot of ways you can kill a person. There are fast ways, and there are slow ways. Chester was killin' me the slow way for thirteen years." Obviously Lucille preferred the fast way when it came to putting an end to her spouse.
The next story revolves around a civil right movement in Alabama. A young black teenager, Taylor Jackson (Louis Miller) is killed by a local prejudice sheriff named John Doggett (Meat Loaf Aday), who angrily pulls the innocent victim off a fence after he and his friends protest against the prohibition of swimming in the city pool. The late boy's parents attempt to lead a civil right crusade while trying to build a case to make Doggett pay for his crime.
Through another story is where these stories are linked. We see these events through the point of view of a young man's realization of life in the South without parents. This character, named Peejoe (Lucas Black), is the nephew of Lucille. She trustingly reveals all her secrets to Peejoe before she heads for Hollywood. He is also the only witness the violent act of Sheriff Doggett, placing him in the middle of the civil rights movement. Peejoe is not the center of the movie, however, and his character is completely unneeded and only adds additional complexity to the screenplay. He is simply an excuse to interlock the other two plots, and the attempt does not work.
The stories by themselves are very interesting, with inventive and original ideas and some thought-provoking messages. The film feels convincing in its development of the setting and atmosphere; the 1960's are captured with intrigue. Although it is his first feature film, Antonio Banderas, also a well-known actor starring 1999's Viking drama "The 13th Warrior," he should have realized the complexity of the plot as a negative contribution. There are movies in which multiple stories make the production unique and innovative, like "Traffic," "Magnolia," and "Pulp Fiction," but those movies blended their narratives together carefully, "Crazy in Alabama" only makes excuses for its actions.
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