V.W. Sheich’s Stars Fell on Alabama tells the story of Bryce Dixon (James Maslow), a Hollywood film agent who hasn’t been back to his small Alabama hometown in fifteen years. When he discovers that he is the only remaining single member of his old friend group, he manages to convince his client, actress Madison Belle (Ciara Hanna), to attend his upcoming high school reunion with him and pose as his girlfriend. The rest of the film sees Bryce rediscovering his small-town roots, and his true feelings and priorities, as he introduces his town and his friends to Madison. Director V.W. Sheich usually works in visual effects production, and has built an impressive resume to that end. This film is not salvaged by his direction, falling short in many narrative areas.
The opening of Stars Fell on Alabama establishes Bryce Dixon’s lifestyle as a Hollywood bachelor. There is a frenetic montage of girls and drinks which, while establishing exposition, isn’t particularly convincing or endearing. When Bryce and Madison are first seen together, it is not clear why Bryce is Madison’s agent, as she seems bored and even embarrassed by his choices in representing her. She is introduced as a typical rising Hollywood actress, and Bryce is a single, work-focused agent. This is, until the problem of his high school reunion comes up, and Madison agrees to pose as his date for the event.
Stars Fell on Alabama comes across as a laundry list of tropes and cliches that are, in their reductiveness, difficult to get past. Upon arriving in Alabama, Bryce and Madison immediately discover that the only rental car available to them is a ridiculously large, impossibly lifted red pick up truck. The two laugh about how classically Alabama this is, and they shrug and drive off in the insane vehicle. This is neither the first, or the last, caricature of life in the South.
The film also includes married Southern women who are terribly worried about the fate of anyone unfortunate enough to remain unmarried, and say “bless your heart” as a forced refrain. Stars Fell on Alabama even pokes fun at Alabama by alluding to the old cliche “Thank God for Mississippi.” While certain details of Southern living in the film may even be accurate, such as the presence of quaint small towns and their penchant for fried food, country music, football, and square dancing, the impression the movie gives is that Alabama, and the American South in general, is a monolith–and not a very flattering one at that.
The cliches do not stop there. Madison, in fulfilling her role of fake girlfriend, immediately resorts to the classic “cool girl” tropes of chugging beer, burping, being unrealistically good at darts and cornhole, and housing barbecue ribs to impress Bryce’s friends–all while being perfectly giggly and feminine. In a later pool scene, multiple characters either stare or comment on her body, which is taken as acceptable and expected by all parties. The extreme character shift and take on what women must do to appear desirable and fun is insulting and uncomfortable. The shift in her character is neither explained nor addressed, which leaves the development of her role in Bryce’s friend group and her relationship with Bryce feeling shallow.
Continuing with the unrealistic tone of Stars Fell on Alabama, in Taylor Hicks’ appearance featuring his new cover of All American Rejects’ “Gives You Hell,” the entire town begins square-dancing. This is a highly choreographed dance, and every single person in attendance, including Madison, knows every step. The fact that Madison, who had never heard of Willow Valley until that very day, knows this dance by heart is also never explained. By the way, in this film, the graduating class celebrating the aforementioned 15th High School reunion is never specified, and it seems as though the town of Willow Valley is entirely populated by this one class, as everyone in town seems in on the reunion festivities.
In spite of the shortcomings of the film, Bryce and Madison do have noticeable chemistry. Viewers can watch their attraction grow throughout the film, and it becomes clear that they are developing feelings for each other. James Maslow of Big Time Rush and Ciara Hanna of Power Rangers Megaforce both have substantial lists of acting credits, but both seem stuck in a register and tone slightly too young for their roles here, perhaps because of the juvenile tone of the film itself. They manage to create on-screen chemistry anyway and their attraction for each other is one of the most believable parts of the film.
The shallow characterizations, reliance on cliches and tropes as narrative crutches, and predictable plot progression come together to result in a movie that has a few fun and feel-good moments, but simply falls flat. It does Alabama and the South a disservice in its broad caricatures, and does not adequately establish the characters to make them or their relationships believable or meaningful, although the leads do have chemistry. Overall, Stars Fell on Alabama attempts to create a charming hometown romantic comedy, and falls far short of the mark.