Legally Blonde

Dir. Robert Luketic
2001
On an anthropological mission,
Jessica and I watched this last night, my wife wanting to figure out why this was the most popular film around her office (which is not a law office). Reese Witherspoon stars as Elle, a sorority queen who winds up in Harvard Law School and a) learns to believe in herself b) teaches others to believe in herself and c) solves a major case through her knowledge of haircare products.
It’s standard Hollywood comedy, with a couple of good lines (“I even had a Coppola direct my admissions video!” she pouts), but making the audience “feel good” is higher on the agenda than making them laugh. What’s wrong here is typical of comedies for the last ten years: the film can’t decide whether to be a farce, with cartoonish characters and crazy situations, or a realistic comedy drama, with the laughs coming out of the drama of well-rounded characters. Unlike Hong Kong or Bollywood cinema, where all genres are thrown into the blender, here the effect is to diminish the comedy.
The first half continually tells us how outlandish Elle is (everybody gets a dropped-jaw moment), but then the second half works equally hard to show us Elle’s innate talent. I would like to think that an older comedy would have just began with the idea of a Barbie lawyer who wins cases through her keen eye for trivial fashion detail, then pitted her against an equally “specialized” lawyer. But as I said, the whole film serves to make us feel good that Elle feels good about herself, that if you “follow your dream” you will succeed, blah blah blah.
I’m curious whether Legally Blonde 2 has a bit more to say about the character…but then again I’m not that curious.
Link: There’s an interesting interpretation of the film as a love letter to itself over at Metaphilm, where a writer simply called Kirby sees Elle representing the film itself, trying to ingratiate itself into the minds of the anti-Hollywood intelligentsia. I think the essay falls apart at the end, but I do like the line: “I have stopped making conscious decisions and have become the dreaming mind of the world.” Is he quoting somebody?

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