Wednesday 9 June 2021

Movie Review: Legally Blonde (2001)

A comedy about looking past superficialities, Legally Blonde celebrates do-anything empowerment with gloss, humour, and old-fashioned kindness.

Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) is a fashion merchandising major at a California college, living the sorority lifestyle centred on shopping, make-up, and manicures. She is crushed when boyfriend Warner (Matthew Davis) dumps her because she is unsuitable for his senator-in-the-making lifestyle as he heads out to Harvard Law School. 

Stung into action, Elle applies herself and remarkably gets accepted into Harvard Law School, but upon arrival finds Warner already has a new girlfriend in Vivian Kensington (Selma Blair). Elle persists and makes a good impression in the class of Professor Callahan (Victor Garber). She earns an internship opportunity while catching the eye of Callahan's assistant Emmett (Luke Wilson), and still finds time to teach dowdy manicurist Paulette (Jennifer Coolidge) some sassy skills.

An adaptation of Amanda Brown's book based on her real-life experiences, Legally Blonde is fun, frivolous and wears its silliness with pride. The story of a smart woman deciding to ditch the ditzy lifestyle and focus on academics embraces concepts of self-belief and re-defined focus, but all themes are treated with feather touches. Director Robert Luketic keeps the mood bouncy, and pokes away with equal measures of playfulness at the vacuous sorority lifestyle and law school arrogance.

However, the air of dismissiveness sometimes borders on grating. Elle and her sorority sisters are treated as total airheads. The effort required to enter law school is reduced to Elle cramming for one exam and flaunting her bikini body in the application video. At Harvard the students are a combination of snarky and instinctively rude, and Elle's pathway to influencing a high-profile murder case is ridiculously short.

But this is a comedy, and Reese Witherspoon makes the most out of the role, ensuring Elle emits flashes of wit and a continuous stream of kindness, whether in her sorority or serious modes. Selma Blair is a suitable brunette nemesis, but Matthew Davis is an unfortunate non-entity, although his lack of presence underlines the futility of sorority women obsessing over useless men.

Within the final act of the brisk 96 minutes, Legally Blonde crams in courtroom antics featuring a murdered patriarch, his snooty daughter (Linda Cardellini), an accused step-mother (Ali Larter) and her alleged Latin lover, with no less than Raquel Welch making an appearance. It's a story-within-a-story, all to prove that understanding the latest shoe fashion trends and the fundamentals of a perm are essential legal skills.

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