Posted: 07/23/2001


Legally Blonde


by E.T. Robbins

Reese Witherspoon is pretty in pink, but is this flick a Clueless wannabe?

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First, I have a disclaimer. I am a true blonde. I enjoy blonde jokes, but I think that jokes about brunettes and redheads are funnier. I am in no way threatened by the blonde stereotype. If anything, it gives us blondes the advantage. We are constantly surprising people when we turn out to be intelligent, talented women with IQ’s that are higher than our bra size. As I was writing this review, my father sent me a hilarious blonde joke. I laughed for five minutes. I wish I could say the same for MGM’s film Legally Blonde.

Don’t get me wrong, I did laugh. And it’s not the worst flick of the summer. As the number one movie at the box office its opening weekend, Legally Blonde is a force to be reckoned with even though it’s dinosaur food from now on in terms of cash receipts.

Based on Amanda Brown’s novel by the same name, Legally Blonde is a story that revolves around age-old stereotypes, in this case, the “dumb blonde” mentality. Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) is blonde, beautiful, and has a 4.0 GPA as a fashion major at the fictional California University at Los Angeles. She is president of her sorority, popular, and is about to become engaged (or so she thinks) to her handsome boyfriend, Warner (Matthew Davis). Everything starts to unravel when Warner tells her he’s ending their relationship because, well, Elle is just too blonde. Warner has big plans of attending Harvard Law School and becoming a senator by age 30. He needs a beautiful, smart wife.

Now, let’s stop for a moment. Ladies, blonde or not, if some guy says that you’re not quite good enough for him, what do you do? Show him up and walk away? Or show him up and win him back? Elle Woods decides on the latter and spends the remainder of her senior year in college trying to get into Harvard Law School, which of course she does.

Here are the problems. Elle is a stereotypical dumb blonde. This is how she is depicted from the opening of the film. As an audience, we need evidence at some point early on that Elle is more than the stereotype. The writers, Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, succeed in showing us a glimpse of this in a dress shop scene. The employees assume Elle is stupid and try to scam her. Elle catches them in their lie. However, this is all the writers give us and it’s not enough.

I wanted to see Elle evolve. She didn’t. She brings her dumb blonde attitude to Harvard Law School, gets off to a shaky start, but ultimately succeeds without deviating too much from the stereotype. I suppose the writers were trying to convince the audience that all you need in order to succeed is to just be yourself. I get that. However, I don’t get how the Elle we know succeeds. She got lucky. Being yourself doesn’t mean that you don’t grow and change along the way.

Actress Ali Larter who plays Brooke Taylor-Windmark, a woman accused of murdering her millionaire husband, made this comment about Legally Blonde, “It’s kind of like Clueless at law school.” However, “kind of” doesn’t mean it is and Clueless is a far better movie. Why? Because in Clueless we watch our perky blonde matchmaker, Cher (Alicia Silverstone), realize that she can’t program love or control people’s lives. Cher grows up in Clueless. Although the things we love about Cher don’t change, we applaud the way her character transforms - she is wiser at the conclusion of the film. This type of character transformation doesn’t take place in Legally Blonde. Elle Woods is pretty much the stereotype from beginning to end. The only difference is that she holds a Harvard Law School degree in her hand. Some might say that this is not the type of movie deserving or needing an in depth critique. However, when a movie like Clueless, which has the same essential dumb blonde plot, turns out to be a hit with critics and audiences alike, I feel the need for comparison.

There are funny moments in Legally Blonde. Jennifer Coolidge (American Pie, Best In Show) once again showcases her comedic talents as Paulette, Elle’s newfound kindred spirit at a local beauty salon in Cambridge. Paulette’s obsession with the UPS guy is hysterical and her legal entanglements with her ex-husband help to flesh out Elle’s character. The glimpses we get of this Elle, a woman who is now taking her studies seriously and realizing she can make a difference in the world, is a theme that should have been explored more.

Luke Wilson (Home Fries, Charlie’s Angels) plays Emmett Richmond, the legal eagle that gives Elle the benefit of the doubt. Selma Blair (Cruel Intentions) is wonderful as the prim, proper, and wickedly jealous Vivian Kensington, Warner’s Harvard fiancĂ©e and Elle’s nemesis.

You’ll enjoy a musical number called “The Bend and Snap” that takes place in the beauty salon and involves every type of stereotype imaginable. A cameo appearance by Raquel Welch and the always-impressive Victor Garber (Titanic, The First Wives Club) also help to save Legally Blonde.

As a Boston native, I must admit my disappointment in the fact that the film was shot entirely in California. However, the fun, borderline-bizarre outfits that adorn Witherspoon’s sleek physique (she and actor/husband Ryan Phillippe had their first child about a year before filming commenced) were wonderful thanks to costume designer Sophie de Rakoff Carbonell. One picky editing point: throughout the film Witherspoon’s playful coifs literally change from one frame to another as if someone was standing by with a can of Aqua Net between takes. This is noticeable and distracting.

Reese Witherspoon does a good job with a flat character. In interviews, she spoke of trying to garner a more widespread audience with Legally Blonde. However, the 25-year old actress already has an impressive resume with flicks like Pleasantville, Cruel Intentions, and Election, a film that earned her a Golden Globe nomination. I wonder if this was really her decision or an agent’s mission. I know actors believe in pursuing diverse roles, but the character of Elle Woods may be pushing it a bit. Witherspoon is a major talent. In fact, I believe she could be one of the top actresses of her generation.

Clueless as to whether Legally Blonde is worth the price of admission? Let me say this: if you’re in the mood for somewhat amusing, non-thinking, pink fluff - go for it. Haven’t seen Pleasantville or Election yet? Grab some take-out and spend your dollars on rentals. And if you’re blonde, do, like, whatever - we have fun no matter what.

E.T. Robbins is a freelance writer living in Boston, where she worked for a time at a local newspaper and at a local radio station.

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