Reese Witherspoon, one of the brightest, most intelligent young actresses in
Hollywood, has been around ever since her feature debut at 14 in 1991's
nostalgic "Man in the Moon." Solid star turns followed in 1996's "Fear,"
1996's "Freeway," 1998's "Pleasantville," 1999's "Cruel Intentions," and
1999's "Election," but never before has she had an entire movie rest solely
upon her shoulders--until now.
"Legally Blonde," the directing bow of Robert Luketic, is an intentionally
frothy, good-natured comedy about female empowerment and getting to show your
true colors in a cynical society. At the forefront is Witherspoon, in a role
that is perfectly tailor-made for her sturdy comedic talents, and she shines
in every second of its entertaining, fast-paced 96 minutes.
Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon), no doubt named after the magazine, is about
to graduate from college with a 4.0 GPA and a degree in fashion
merchandising. She also expects to get a marriage proposal from her longtime
boyfriend, Warner Huntington III (Matthew Davis), when, instead, he dumps her
due to not believing that she would make an acceptable senator's wife.
Distraught over this unexpected turn of events, Elle decides to follow Warner
to Harvard with her beloved Chihuahua in tow, where she will major in law and
prove him wrong about just being a "dumb blonde."
This is the clever setup of "Legally Blonde," a sunny, hip confection that
uses 1995's delightful "Clueless" as an indirect blueprint. The screenplay,
scribed by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith (1999's "10 Things I Hate
About You"), is spunky and very sweet, but the film really would sink or swim
based on its leading lady.
Luckily, just the right one was chosen and Witherspoon is up for the
challenge, turning Elle into a positive, well-meaning heroine for the
21st-century who proves looks are, indeed, only skin-deep. Elle may be a
beautiful girl with a keen fashion sense, but the key to her appeal is that
she is a genuinely good person, plain and simple. Witherspoon wins you over
from the very beginning, much like Alicia Silverstone did in "Clueless,"
because she's cute, funny, and isn't self-involved like you may expect from
the way she looks. No, Elle does things her way, and she'll be damned if
she's going to change just because people think she should.
The aforementioned script is a particularly smart one, alternately satirical
and down-to-earth when it needs to be. Elle's application tape into Harvard,
which she got "one of the Copolla's to direct," for example, is both winning
and silly, with her proving that she can successfully use proper legal jargon
("I object!," she exclaims as a passerby touches her backside), as well as
hold inordinately huge amounts of information in her head by rattling off the
various current storylines on the soap opera, "One Life to Live." Late in the
picture, as the action turns toward a murder trial, writers Lutz and Smith
hilariously incorporate the usual court matters with significant plot points
concerning designer shoes and the proper way to manage a new perm.
The actors around Witherspoon fall into two categories--those that are nice
to Elle, and those that aren't. Jennifer Coolidge (Stifler's mom in 1999's
"American Pie") is notably charming in the type of part she's never played
before--a shy manicurist who befriends Elle when nobody else initially does.
Selma Blair (2000's "Down to You") does well as Warner's new brunette
girlfriend at Harvard, at first coming off as stuck-up before feeling remorse
about the way she has wronged Elle. Finally, Luke Wilson (1999's "Blue
Streak") does what he can with the underwritten role of Elle's new potential
love interest. Not enough time is spent developing their relationship, and it
is one of the few missteps that is made throughout.
The journey that Elle takes as she sets out to reclaim her beau, only to
discover that she is more than capable of standing on her own two feet, is a
predictable one, as is the outcome of the climactic murder trial. Then again,
"Legally Blonde" makes no false accusations about being a deep or intricately
plotted motion picture. It's a lighthearted, breezy comedy that is sure to
gain Reese Witherspoon the full recognition she has deserved for years. And
more so than anything else, it sure is a whole lot of fun.
Copyright © 2001 Dustin Putman