Legally Blonde - 2001
Director(s): Robert Luketic
Writer(s): Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith (screenplay) / Amanda Brown (novel)
Cinematography by: Anthony B. Richmond
Editor(s): Anita Brandt Burgoyne and Garth Craven
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Selma Blair, Matthew Davis, Victor Garber, Jennifer Coolidge, Holland Taylor, Ali Larter, Jessica Cauffiel and Alanna Ubach
Some roles define an actor for the rest of their career. They become so deeply associated with the character, that you cannot imagine someone else stepping in to replace them. Think Ripley for Sigourney Weaver or The Dude for Jeff Bridges. While Reese Witherspoon has had a long and successful career (Election, Walk the Line, Big Little Lies), she is forever tied to her role as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, and for a good reason. With a third installment coming next year, despite the awful sequel, I wanted to revisit the film and see if I wasn't remembering it through pink colored glasses. Let's talk about it.
The story follows Elle Woods (Witherspoon); she is an attractive, wealthy, fashion student, and president of her sorority. Her world is turned upside down when she is dumped on the night she thought her boyfriend was going to propose. His reason being that Elle is not a serious and smart woman like the ones he is bound to meet during his years at Harvard Law School. Woods decides that the only way to get him back is to gain acceptance into Harvard and prove him wrong, only to find that he has already moved on with his fiancé, Vivian (Blair). Woods, the ever optimist, stays in school hoping her new drive and determination will win him over. Through this, she finds a passion for law and sees how better she can do for herself than chasing after a man that is not worth her time.
Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith's screenplay is an adaptation of Amanda Brown’s novel of the same name. Brown, in real life, is a version of the character Elle and when she attended Stanford Law School, she felt the clash of personalities the character goes through at Harvard. The reason why this screenplay works so well is that audiences have been so indoctrinated that a blonde woman that loves makeup and fashion is automatically dumb and self-centered. However, through it all Woods is positive, looking to help everyone around her and continuously proves that her smarts should not be overlooked. It plays like a satire of the stereotype, but it is also a social commentary of the standards set by both "intellectuals" and "fashionistas" on whom belongs in their "groups."
While the screenplay has a satirical bite, it would not have worked if the lead did not embrace the role as Witherspoon did. Everything she did on screen was in service of building this persona of the stereotype of the ditsy sorority girl. Her walk, tone of voice, dog (Chihuahua named Bruiser), clothes and smile are all used to subtlety jab at the preconceived notion the world around tried to box her in. One of my favorite moments of the film is when the board is playing the video essay she submitted, in a pink bikini, and she says; "I feel comfortable using legal jargon in everyday life," and a man hits on her, and her reply is "I object", it gets me every time. The rest of the cast is excellent, Selma Blair as the angry fiancé that starts to respect Elle. Luke Wilson as the love interest that sees the potential in her because of her smarts - not her looks. The evergreen Jennifer Coolidge as the clumsy manicurist that Elle helps both with getting her dog back and finding love. While Witherspoon is the driving force, the rest play their parts perfectly.
Legally Blonde is a smartly written satire that follows the tropes of both the rom-com and courtroom drama genres to a tee. Elevated by a career-defining performance from Witherspoon, it is hard not to fall in love and root for the success of the Woods, making it an endlessly rewatchable film.
Legally Blonde is Glass Half Full.
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