Legally Blonde
review by Gregory Avery, 13 July 2001

In Legally Blonde, Reese Witherspoon plays Elle, whose wonderful, pink, bubbly world, centered around the Delta Nu sorority house (whose location is never entirely identified in the film), suddenly comes crashing down when her boyfriend, Warner (Matthew Davis), announces that he's breaking up with her. Aspiring to go into politics, he wants to marry "a Jackie, not a Marilyn, and then packs himself off to Harvard Law School to get a degree. Elle, however, becomes undeterred by his opportunistic behavior, and goes right after him by entering the law school, too. LSAT scores of over 170 needed for enrollment? Piece of cake. And she gets a member of a famous filmmaking dynasty to create her "enrollment video, as well. The members of the law school's higher faculty can't help but let her in.

The film itself, directed by Robert Luketic and adapted, by screenwriters Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, from a novel by Amanda Brown (which is described as being "an anthropological study of the 'law student species'"), starts out on a high note but turns formulaic and bends way too much to please the audience. Even Vivian (slack-jawed Selma Blair), the girl who is the chief rival for Warner's attentions, becomes one of Elle's friends and staunch-supporters, while the guy (Luke Wilson) who is obviously the right one for Elle is under her nose all the time. (Wilson brings a beautifully understated, courtly manner to the role that brings to mind the young Gary Cooper.) The film appears to have been massively reshot, sometimes to ill effect (Matthew Davis appears to be playing one type of character in the early scenes of the film, then another type entirely during the scenes at Harvard), and has a flood of post-production dubbing, some of which overly spells out points in the story that we have probably already figured out for ourselves. Wilson's character, Emmett, is even heard telling Elle that she should "take" her "power" -- the "power" of her blondness -- and "channel it towards the greater good".

The movie still works, however, because Witherspoon, and the filmmakers, have zeroed in on what Elle's best qualities are: she may look spacey and sound spacey, but she's essentially good, fair-minded, and she doesn't play herself cheap. Helping a Cambridge beautician (Jennifer Coolidge) get a piece of valuable personal property back becomes something of great importance to Elle. She makes many friends in the process, and they're good friends, and you can see why Elle is appealing to them. Reese Witherspoon, who has been doing some brilliant work for years in many films, turns Elle into a resourceful, self-determined, indomitable radiance of light, and her characterization makes sense from top to bottom. Even her legal coup de grace near the end, where she exposes a criminal by using her thorough knowledge involving the dos and don'ts of hair permanents, seems positively, absolutely right.  The world, it seems, could use more "blonde power, but, at least the way Reese Witherspoon personifies it, you can understand why.

Directed by:
Robert Luketic

Starring:
Reese Witherspoon
Matthew Davis
Selma Blair
Luke Wilson
Ali Larter
Jennifer Coolidge
Holland Taylor
Victor Garber

Written by:
Karen McCullah Lutz 
Kirsten Smith

Rated:
PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautions
Some material may not be suitable for children

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