USA, 2001. Rated PG-13. 94 minutes.
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson,
Selma Blair, Matthew Davis, Victor Garber, Jennifer Coolidge, Holland
Taylor, Ali Larter, Jessica Cauffiel, Alanna Ubach, Oz Perkins, Linda
Cardellini, Bruce Thomas, Meredith Scott Lynn, Raquel Welch
|Grade: B-||Review by Carlo Cavagna|
wenty years from now, Legally Blonde won't be remembered by the American Film Institute as a landmark moment in American cinema, but there is a decent chance that if he's still around, James Lipton, host of Bravo's "Inside the Actor's Studio," will gently question (using such rhapsodic words as "dazzling" and "uproarious") a middle-aged but still radiant Reese Witherspoon about how she makes comedy seem so effortless. In other words, Legally Blonde is no Election, but Witherspoon is an immensely talented comedienne in the classic sense of the word--like Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey or Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday--able to play the dumb blonde without losing respect or lacking wit.
Of course, in Legally Blonde, Witherspoon's Elle Woods isn't a dumb blonde. She just fulfills our idea of a Southern California airhead, devoting herself to shopping (she's a fashion major) and the presidency of her sorority full of like-minded blondes (and a lone brunette, played by Alanna Ubach). However, there's a keen mind lurking in the empty space supposedly between her ears. Legally Blonde establishes in the early going that, despite her frivolous interests and flamboyantly Southern California fashion sense (think Clueless, only more so), Elle is sharp and observant, which makes what comes later slightly less unbelievable.
Elle, a senior in college, is, like, totally devoted to her boyfriend Warner Huntington III (Matthew Davis), whom she plans to marry. He has other plans. He comes from a family of Senators, and he's off to Harvard Law School. A woman like Elle isn't "serious enough" (or frumpy enough) to fit into his Big Plans. Elle doesn't take being dumped well, and she wants to show Warner he's wrong. She will accomplish this by going to Harvard Law herself. Even her sun-addled mother and martini-chugging father don't believe she can do it, but Elle is determined.
What follows are a series of above-average fish-out-of-water jokes and visual gags, many involving Elle's little dog. They work because director Robert Luketic doesn't hit you over the head (for the most part) with you-must-laugh-now direction. He simply relies on Witherspoon to embody her character completely, which she does, and inserts her into unusual situations. That's usually enough. One memorable image involves a row of students with charcoal black laptop computers interrupted by Elle's tangerine i-Book, for example. There's no setup or close-up; the incongruity is simply there.
Naturally, Elle is an exaggerated caricature, but Witherspoon humanizes her, investing her with grit and determination. Only Witherspoon could have played this comedic bubblehead with nuance and grace, showing us her inner life while still playing her for laughs. Selma Blair, who appeared with Witherspoon in Cruel Intentions, is an effective foil as Warner's new fiancée, and Titanic's Victor Garber adds a bit of class as a law professor who turns out to have none. Luke Wilson (Committed), Holland Taylor (Keeping the Faith), Jennifer Coolidge (Best in Show), and Ali Larter (Final Destination) round out the solid supporting cast.
Legally Blonde chugs along smoothly for most of its 94 minutes, never feeling slow or rushed, until the climactic courtroom scene, which is far too abbreviated. Instead of getting the opportunity to show that she's learned something, the script calls for Elle to fall back on her knowledge of hair care to save the day, which slightly undermines the movie's message of tolerance and not judging a book by its cover. In fact, the story would have been better off ditching the courtroom drama completely, which is just a stock means of bringing the film to an identifiable climax.
Legally Blonde is a thoroughly enjoyable light comedy. If whatever movie you go to the multiplex hoping to see is sold out, Legally Blonde is, like, a totally legit option.
© July 2001 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2001 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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