Legally Blonde (United States, 2001)
Legally Blonde fits into the niche occupied by motion pictures like Clueless, Dick, and Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion - that is to say, films in which an airhead heroine captures our affection and overcomes her vacuous disability to triumph. However, while Legally Blonde boasts its share of cute moments, the production has at least one significant problem - the plot. Director Robert Luketic's feature debut is handicapped by a lame, predictable storyline that calls attention to itself too often. Admittedly, in all but the best comedies, plot is usually not a strong suit, but the filmmakers of Legally Blonde make the mistake of believing the audience will care about the way things progress, which is not likely to happen.
Without question, Reese Witherspoon carries the film. The actress, who has basically grown up in front of the camera, has previously shown a strong grasp of both comedy and drama, and this is the most effective satirical performance she has given since Election. Witherspoon's character, Elle Woods, is on screen for a majority of the running time, and it's worth noting that the movie wouldn't have been as watchable with a less capable actress in the lead role. It takes a talented performer to make a dumb character likeable (as opposed to irritating).
When Legally Blonde opens, Elle has just finished a highly successful four years at college, where she majored in fashion, was president of the Delta Nu sorority, and appeared in a Ricky Martin music video. Now, as she prepares to enter real life, she is expecting a proposal from her boyfriend, Warner Huntington III (Matthew Davis). What she gets, instead, is the kiss-off. Warner is headed for Harvard Law School, and doesn't want to be encumbered by a California girl. He intends to be a U.S. Senator by the age of 30, and, for that to happen, he needs the "right kind" of wife, and she's not Elle. Undeterred, our heroine decides to follow Warner to law school, and, after preparing an unorthodox admission essay and doing surprisingly well on the LSATs, she is accepted. Once at Harvard, she sets out not only to win Warner back from his new, snooty girlfriend, Vivian (Selma Blair), but to prove that she can become a lawyer.
Legally Blonde combines three plot staples: the triumph over adversity, the romantic comedy, and the courtroom comedy. The resulting uneven confection is sporadically affable, but the movie suffers because it never attempts to push the envelope or challenge its boundaries. The production targets teenagers (girls more than boys) who are content to watch a motion picture with a few laughs and a happy ending. For every sly or barbed comment, there are a dozen missed opportunities. Legally Blonde wants so desperately to be liked by everyone (even lawyers, whom it jokingly calls "people who are boring, ugly, and serious") that it takes pains to neuter its insults.
For much of the first two-thirds, Legally Blonde remains within the realm of mild satire and lighthearted comedy; however, during the third act, which involves a court battle where Elle proves her mettle, the film descends into sentimentality. Suddenly, we're supposed to care not only about the character (which is feasible, given Witherspoon's performance) but about her circumstances (which is not reasonable, given the limited quality of the writing). Like many comedies, Legally Blonde wants the plot to be more than a framework upon which to hang the jokes, but it fails to provide enough substance for that to be the case. That's a recipe for mediocrity, and, by not taking risks or supplying an interesting storyline, Legally Blonde falls into the trap.
Legally Blonde (United States, 2001)
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Selma Blair, Matthew Davis, Victor Garber, Jennifer Coolidge, Holland Taylor, Ali Larter
Screenplay: Karen McCullah Lutz & Kirsten Smith, based on the novel by Amanda Brown
Cinematography: Anthony B. Richmond
Music: Rolfe Kent
U.S. Distributor: MGM