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‘Heart of Dixie’

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 15, 1989


Martin Davidson
Ally Sheedy;
Virginia Madsen;
Phoebe Cates;
Don Michael Paul;
Treat Williams
Children under 13 should be accompanied by a parent

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Ally Sheedy, Virginia Madsen and Phoebe Cates combine their negligible talents in "Heart of Dixie" -- a melodrama so full of hams, it oinks. Led by Sheedy, the tedious trio plays giddy coeds caught up in the racist and sexist traditions of the South in the late '50s. They all sound like they've been gulping hush puppy batter.

The actresses, however, are not solely responsible for this remarkably dumb potboiler, which is a sort of white folks' "School Daze," with novice screenwriter Tom McCown whining about apolitical campus Greeks. Working from McCown's histrionic screenplay, Martin Davidson of "Eddie and the Cruisers" proves once again that he don't know nothing 'bout directing no movies.

Sheedy, a forehead-wrinkler and skirt-swisher, is destined to rise above her heritage, to reconsider her upcoming marriage to Boots Claibourne (heir to the finest plantation in the Delta and the whitest boy in all of Mississippi) and to question segregation. But not before the wringing of the belles of Alpha Chi Delta, including Sheedy as the sensitive and sassy Maggie and Madsen as the sassy and sassy Delia June.

The sorority girls spend their time choosing cashmere sweaters, getting pinned, not going all the way, and preparing for the Old South Ball, at which a Chi Delt is always elected Honeysuckle Queen. Delia, though indirectly responsible for her beau's recent death, insists on going through with the beauty contest. Her overjoyed sisters stand to sing the house song, and Maggie realizes that these babes are shallower than petri dishes.

Having just met the enigmatic AP photographer Hoyt Cunningham (Treat Williams), Maggie has her consciousness raised. Her good friend Aiken Reed (Cates) is also instrumental in widening Maggie's horizons. She is a severe and sassy independent, who believes in free love, wears black and plans to go to Greenwich Village after she graduates.

Bigots swear, blacks look pitiful picking cotton, the establishment is pigheaded and brutal. As the story nears the end, it grows stronger and stronger, culminating in a scene that is actually quite brilliant -- M.J. Etua is wonderful in her brief walk through a phalanx of state troopers, brave and afraid all at once as the school's first black student.

But that's too little too late. The sins of "Heart of Dixie" are inestimable, but like the song says, look away, look away.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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