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Illegally Awful 

The following is a list of people who ought to sue Legally Blonde director Robert Luketic for defamation of character: me, all other graduates of UCLA, all residents of Bel-Air, Calif.; the gifted Reese Witherspoon, Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, all residents of southern California, Reese Witherspoon, all women under 30, all Harvard law students, all manicurists, the owners and stockholders of Apple Computers, all Californians, all women, Reese Witherspoon, anyone who can spell California, Reese Witherspoon, and last but not least, Reese Witherspoon.

Written (if you can call this kind of lame scene design and puppet-like, character-manipulation writing) by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, Legally Blonde is the story of Elle Woods (Witherspoon), surely the stupidest and most oblivious 4.0 college graduate in the history of higher education. Elle is the president of her sorority at CULA (sure, the filmmakers think they can disparage my alma mater through the shell game of acronym, but I warn them: the courts are smarter!). Her sorority sisters are the kind of dimpled dingbats who break glasses when they laugh in high-pitched squeals and jump in the air to clap their hands when they learn Macy's is having a sale. These are the kind of women Jay Leno would reject for his "Jaywalking" features, not because they weren't adequately ignorant, but because they're too shrill.

Elle is cruising along toward graduation and a subsequent life of connubial bliss with her snot beau Warner Huntingdon III (Matthew Davis) when things take a wrong turn. Rather than propose one night in some chi chi L.A. eatery, Warner announces that he's decided to break up. He comes from a family of United States senators, he explains, and as a Solon-in-grooming, he needs "a Jackie not a Marilyn." At this point, any self-respecting woman would demand to know the difference. Both married for money. Both talked in funny little whispers. Both appeared nude in men's magazines. And the rejected Marilyn had the virtue of true yearning while the desired Jackie almost radiated her sense of entitlement. So clearly Warner is a priggish idiot and should be instantly forgotten.

Only no, the whole plot of Legally Blonde involves Elle trying to remake herself into the woman Warner wants. He's going to Harvard Law, so she'll go to Harvard Law. Yes, her degree is shortly earned in the non-existent major of "fashion merchandising"; yes, her application materials include a video of Elle strutting about in a bikini; and yes, she assures the admissions committee that she's proud to include legal jargon in her everyday conversation. The narrative in this picture might have evolved into something workable if Elle really were just a sex toy for Warner, really were a desperate Marilyn eager for knowledge and accomplishment and willing to sleep with the most attractive man around in order to achieve her ends.

But this vexingly dumb story tries to have it both ways. Elle isn't a poor climber trying to trade good looks and sexual willingness for a shot at a better life. Instead, she's a child of Bel-Air, one of the most exclusive subdivisions in Los Angeles. And she's supposed to be smart. How she got so completely unsophisticated is the baldest Hollywood contrivance since Larry Flynt was depicted as an idealistic crusader for First Amendment rights.

So despite her idiotic academic training and her outrageously inappropriate application portfolio, Elle is, of course, accepted to Harvard Law, where she shows up in her convertible sports car and proceeds to dress as if she just stepped down from a model's runway. I will rush to concede that I know nothing of fashion, but Elle's outfits seemed more go-go retro than recherche. But be that as it may, my biggest question is, Doesn't she notice everybody else is wearing jeans and jogging shoes?

Everybody at Harvard treats Elle like a pariah. We don't even get a sinister opportunist hoping to get his hands on her daddy's money. Thus, all alone, Elle takes refuge in the company of the world's most pitiful manicurist (Jennifer Coolidge). If Elle can't be a working-class frump herself, at least she can be nice to one. This little sidebar helps fill the flick's running time out to normal feature length while adroitly avoiding being in the slightest way relevant.

But then Elle trades in her little heart-shaped notepad for a bright pink I-Mac and pretty soon ... well, pretty soon, even though she's still a first-year law student, she's the lead attorney on a murder trial that has arrived in the middle of proceedings like a visitor from the planet Esnesnon. In short, if this movie hadn't starred Reese Witherspoon, I'd have gone to lunch after the first half hour and reviewed something else this week. How can somebody so good lend herself to something so bad?

click to enlarge Order in the courtroom: Reese Witherspoon needs to defend her presence in the dumb comedy Legally Blonde.
  • Order in the courtroom: Reese Witherspoon needs to defend her presence in the dumb comedy Legally Blonde.


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