Film Review: Crazy in Alabama (1999)


There are many reasons why film actors decide to start directing. In case of Antonio Banderas one of the motives was desire to spend as much time as possible with his wife Melanie Griffith, star of his 1999 directorial debut Crazy in Alabama.

Film is based on the eponymous novel by Mark Chidlress who also wrote the script. The plot starts in 1965 rural Alabama where teenager Peter Joseph “Peejoe” Bullis (played by Lucas Black) learns from his eccentric aunt Lucille Winson (played by Melanie Griffith) that she poisoned and decapitated her husband. She leaves town in order to pursue her dreams of Hollywood stardom, while Lucille’s brother and Peejoe’s foster parent Dove (played by David Morse) is forced to take care of Lucille’s numerous children and prevent cruel Sheriff Doggett (played by Meat Loaf) from arresting her. While Lucille arrives in Los Angeles and actually begins an acting career in television, her home town experiences turmoil over Civil Rights movement. Peejoe sees Sheriff Dogget killing a black teenager who protested in front of racially segregated pool. Peejoe is the only witness to the incident and now must decide whether to risk arrest and execution of his aunt by testifying or to keep quiet.

In his interviews Banderas was talking about being attracted to Crazy in Alabama because its bizarre plot and characters reminded him of the works by Pedro Almodovar, director who had brought him stardom in his native Spain and thus paved the way for Hollywood career. In this film it is obvious that Banderas learned at least some aspects of directing and his work is more than passable. Unfortunately, this can’t be said of Childress’ script. What was supposed to be silly comedy of slightly black variety that treats conflict between reality, dreams and show business and explores contrast between small town mediocrity and Hollywood glamour is burdened with another plot dealing with 1960s politics which is depicted in completely straight and serious way. Childress didn’t know which of those two major plots to give emphasis on and Banderas is unable to make his mind for him. As a result, Crazy in Alabama looks like two films unnaturally connected into one. The film is full of cliches that escalate near the ending drenched in pathos and sentimentality. Rod Steiger, who plays judge in those scenes, only reminds audience that he had played similar authority figures in much better films, including Hurricane released in the same year. The acting is, on the other hand, more than passable. That includes Melanie Griffith and especially David Morse, one of the most underrated character actors of 1990s Hollywood. Crazy in Alabama might have meant a lot for Banderas, but those who spend almost two hours watching this film aren’t likely to share his enthusiasm.

RATING: 3/10 (+)

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