Legally Blonde

Legally Blonde movie still

Director: Robert Luketic
Screenwriter: Karen McCullah Lutz, Kirsten Smith
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Matthew Davis, Jennifer Coolidge, Selma Blair, Ali Larter, Holland Taylor
Release details: MGM, USA 2001, 96mins
Full details: IMDb / view trailer (Quicktime)
Genre: Comedy
Rating: 7 out of 10

There are films which come along every now and again where their enduring merit lies not in the script or the direction or even the box office returns, but because they introduce a very special talent. Think of Julia Roberts and you think Pretty Woman. The Wild One's great distinction is in giving Marlon Brando to the world. And, although she'd already alerted the critics to her star potential with strong supporting performances and a wonderfully dark turn in Election, I'll guarantee that Reese Witherspoon will always be associated with Legally Blonde.

It is, in every sense, a star-making turn which has catapulted her from fringe performer to bona fide A-lister and rightly so. As Elle Woods, Fashion Major and sorority queen, Witherspoon is in almost every frame of this movie and breathes vibrant life into what could have been just another one-joke teen movie. Dumped by her Harvard-bound boyfriend (Davis) because his planned political career dictates that he needs "a Jackie, not a Marilyn," Elle decides that she too will get into Harvard Law School to show him that she's worthy of his love.

Of course, getting into Harvard is only the easy part. She soon finds that her professors, ex-boyfriend and classmates don't take her seriously. But this movie is not a serious deconstruction of prejudice and the class system in the Ivy League, so I don't think I'm spoiling the movie by saying that Elle's effervescence and naive charm eventually breaks down those barriers and wins everyone over, none more so than Luke Wilson's mild-mannered professor/lawyer. Elle even gets to participate in her very own trial - that of former sorority girl Brooke Wyndham (Ali Larter, Final Destination 1 & 2).

Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods

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Even if this doesn't sound like your cup of tea, there are still enough laugh-out-loud moments to make the movie worthwhile, not least of which is Elle's video application for Harvard ("I feel comfortable using legal jargon in everyday life"). This film is fluffy and pink and silly, but it knows it and it doesn't pretend to be something it's not. Don't worry, there's no annoying moral. It turns out exactly as you would expect. Probably its most serious point is that orange is not the new pink, no matter what Cameron Diaz might have been told.

It helps that the script, while appearing as vacant and empty-headed as Elle's two best friends, Margot (Jessica Cauffiel) and Serena (Alanna Ubach), actually crackles with some sharp dialogue and a knowing sense of irony, courtesy of screenwriter Karen McCullah Lutz (Ten Things I Hate About You).

Not everything works, though. There's too much reliance on that old favourite, the mistakenly overheard conversation, to drive the plot contrivances and create non-existent tension between Elle and her fellow students. And because so much thought and attention have gone into the characters of Elle and her manicurist friend, Paulette (a magnificently grotesque creation from Coolidge), the rest of the cast, particularly the males, are thinly-sketched to say the least. But, perhaps in a film which deals so much in superficiality, that's exactly as it should be.

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Also available in the UK: VHS boxset featuring Legally Blonde, Romy & Michelle's High School Reunion and She's All That.


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