Crazy in Alabama [1999]

It's clear why Melanie Griffith saw Mark Childress's bestselling book, Crazy in Alabama, as the perfect vehicle for herself. The role of Lucille, a beautiful, battered wife in rural Alabama who dreams of glamorous movie stardom, is tailor-made for her. Griffith's husband, Antonio Banderas, has done quite a respectable job guiding her in this, his directorial debut; her performance--compelling, funny, and warm--is her best since Something Wild. (She also looks simply smashing.) Otherwise, the film is a curious amalgam of genres: an antic, surreal Southern Gothic comedy combined with a deadly serious civil rights parable. As the movie opens, in the summer of 1965, Lucille (Griffith) has just murdered her abusive husband and is blowing town for Hollywood with his head in a Tupperware container. Scenes of her wacky cross-country road trip are interspersed with incidents back in Alabama involving clashes between protesting blacks and murderously intolerant whites. One can't imagine how these two seemingly disparate narrative lines will come together, but they do, in a surprisingly effective manner. The moral of both stories turns out to be: "You can bury freedom, but you can't kill it." Stand-out performances by Robert Wagner, as Lucille's Hollywood agent; Rod Steiger, as a quirky Southern judge; Meat Loaf, as a brutal, bigoted Southern sheriff; and Lucas Black (Sling Blade) as Lucille's highly principled young nephew, give the film an additional boost. --Laura Mirsky

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