NOW PLAYING: Legally Blonde

Posted: Sunday, August 05, 2001

Trying to describe Legally Blonde is kind of like trying to describe one of those friends who needs a disclaimer. "Yeah, he drinks too much and can't hold down a job, but he's a really great guy. You'll love him!" This movie is silly and ridiculous and senseless, but it's a whole lot of fun as well. I almost feel like I'm apologizing for liking it.

Elle Woods is a California girl. She's rich, pretty and at the height of LA society (she grew up across the street from Aaron Spelling.) A senior in college, president of her sorority, and girlfriend of hunky, pre-law Warren, she's perky, unshakably cheerful, and on top of the world, a position she is not unaccustomed to.

When Warren announces that they are breaking up so he can find a more serious girlfriend while attending Harvard Law School, ("If I'm going to be a congressman before I'm thirty, I need a Jackie, not a Marilyn") Elle's world comes crashing down, and not even a manicure can bring her around. Soon, however, her blond and bubbly persona perseveres and she decides to show Warren that she can be serious, too. After preparing her pink-scented resume, and shooting an entrance video that resembles an audition for The Real World, she packs her wardrobe in a moving van, gathers her chihuahua, Brutal, and hits the road. She's going to Harvard.

If all this sounds unlikely and unrealistic, just wait. Not only does Elle get into Harvard Law, she is successful there, and eventually saves the day (a murder trial where the freshman law students get to work on the case; don't worry about it, it doesn't matter.) You just have to suspend your disbelief and sit back and enjoy. The enticing thing about this film is that it never takes itself very seriously, so you don't have to either. It's nice to just sit back and be entertained for once. And there's a good, if simplistic, message to be gleaned. Tolerance, hard-work, and a positive attitude will take you far.

Blonde is, in some ways, a fish out of water/ugly duckling story. There have been plenty of these for Blonde to draw from, but I was interested in the little twist they put on the story. Usually, the poor girl from across the tracks is turned into the prom queen, or the rebel without a cause is transformed into the upstanding business man. In this movie, however, Elle, the ugly duck, is a swan to start with. She's one of the beautiful people - not generally the character who gets transformed. However, when she gets to Boston, Elle sticks out like a sore thumb. Her blond hair and bubbly attitude are in sharp contrast to the dour, serious sensibilites of the Harvard society. And, instead of the swan being transformed back into an ugly duck, everyone in the movie gets elevated by Elle.

There's actually only one reason that Blonde turns out to be anything more than a toss-away '80s throwback: the likability of Reese Witherspoon. She saves this confection by creating an irresistible character. In fact, being irresistible is Elle Woods' stock in trade. She is a person to whom nothing bad ever happens, even when it does. Witherspoon is able to make the audience love her, almost unconditionally, with the same skill that she showed in making them hate her in Election, a movie that got far too little time in theaters before it was whisked off to video. In it she plays a driven over achiever determined to become Student Council President. In that film she took her inherent likability and turned it around, using the fact that everyone loved her to make the audience despise her.

Witherspoon used that trait again in Pleasantville, where she, as the trampy rebellious older sister, brought love and passion to a cold, black and white TV world. She has shown that she can play everything from loveable airhead to malevolent egghead with equal aplomb. Without Witherspoon, Legally Blonde would be little more than a stale candy bar, too long on the shelf. With her, it's a fresh-baked cream puff; not much substance, but sweet and fun. Grade: B+

Legally Blonde is rated PG-13 for mild language and adult themes

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