The main reason that Legally Blonde works is Reese Witherspoon’s performance as the lead character, Elle Woods. If not for her charm, energy and charisma, the film would fall flat. As it is, it’s a moderately successful comedy that sends mixed messages, is completely unrealistic, and kind of funny. Okay, so it’s also kind of sweet and so optimistic that you can’t help but find it endearing, but it’s really predictable and relies so heavily on its lead that you can’t help but wonder what it would be like if someone less talented was given the role.
We begin with a breakup scene, and I thought I was going to hate the movie. Elle, after much preparation, goes on a date with her boyfriend, Warner (Matthew Davis). She assumes he’s going to propose. The exact opposite happens. She gets dumped, as he’s going to Harvard and needs to get “serious” about his life. That means that Elle, a fashion student, isn’t good enough. She then decides to get into Harvard and win her beau back, because, I guess, she’s in love with him or something.
That’s the first message that Legally Blonde brings us. If you’re not good enough for someone, change! Don’t, you know, look for someone who appreciates you for you. No, you need to prove to that one person that you are, in fact, worthy of their time. The next message it’ll give us completely disregards that and borders on empowerment fantasy, but I was kind of surprised by the initial thing that Legally Blonde told us. It just surprised me that a movie like this would be so opinionated, regardless of what that opinion is.
Elle makes it to Harvard, somehow, because it’s not difficult, and then goes through the year. It all concludes with a trial that she gets involved with, as first year students are allowed internships while still in school. And they would be the teacher’s first pick. And Elle would be smart enough to not only get into Harvard, but be granted one of these internships. Elle, a fashion student, someone who, not just a few months earlier, had no interest in law. Right.
Forgive my skepticism. We’re not supposed to look for logic or realism in a movie like this. It’s a comedy, it’s all done for laughs, and Elle isn’t actually all that stupid in the first place, so we can kind of see some hidden genius within her — which goes completely contrary to her personality, but that’s sometimes the case. Fine. And if you work hard, you can achieve anything, regardless of what other people say. I get it. I don’t believe it, and that made it hard to accept the film, but I do get it.
Not only that, but much of what Elle accomplishes seems to be the result of fluke, not of talent. She uses some sort of magical pixie logic in order to get by, which goes completely contrary to everyone else. But it somehow works. That’s part of the joke, which is, admittedly, kind of funny, but it just doesn’t hold up even with the loosest inspection. The ending of the trial is especially noteworthy, because it makes only the slightest sense — but in the film, it is completely fine and nobody doubts it.
Perhaps they were also won over by Witherspoon’s charm. That can happen, I suppose, even though people begin the film hating her. She is the polar opposite of all of the lawyers-in-training, so it makes sense that they dislike her. Maybe they’re jealous. But, like them, the character and the actor’s bubbly personality won me over. For them, it kept characters from thinking straight and doubting illogical statements. For me, it allowed me to enjoy the film, because I stopped, for a while, thinking how stupid the whole thing is.
So, for most of the film, I was won over. I was happy that I was watching it, and I was enjoying myself for the most part. It was kind of funny, kind of sweet, very happy — it was the perfect kind of bubblegum movie. After it ended, I was less happy, more doubting, and a lot less down on it that I ultimately should have been. For the time it was playing, though, I had a good deal of fun.
There are a couple of fun supporting characters, too, although everyone is here just to set up Reese Witherspoon. Still, seeing Selma Blair as a rival classmate (and Elle’s ex’s new fiancée), Holland Taylor as one of the professors, Ali Larter as the woman Elle has to defend (from murder charges, no less!), Luke Wilson as an attorney and possible love interest and Jennifer Coolidge as a manicurist and more or less psychiatrist — that’s all enjoyable to watch. It’s almost all done for comedic effect, but it works more often than it doesn’t and I enjoyed seeing all of them in their small, but important, roles.
Legally Blonde is the type of movie that’s fun in the moment, but completely worthless just moments later. The charm that Reese Witherspoon exudes throughout the proceedings absorbs you so fully that you forget the problems that it has — for the time being, at least. Once it’s over, you might start to dislike it more and more, but as it plays, it’s a fun mixture of comedy and bubbly-ness. It’s such a happy and innocent film that it’s hard to hate it no matter how cheesy it gets, although it becomes even sillier under any inspection.