Legally Blonde

Legally Blonde is the kind of movie I was prepared to be annoyed by before I saw it. On the surface it looked like the standard ‘boy dumps girl- girl makes huge play to win him back-decides she doesn’t want him anymore’ story. It’s not a bad story per se, but it can be formulaic and the payoff rarely feels earned to me. This one sold me on it right from the beginning.

Elle Woods is a fashion merchandising major in LA, and the audience is intended to take a very specific view of her right from the start- the perky, blonde, sorority girl with a ‘frivolous’ major. But we’re also shown a different side of her right away- she’s genuinely caring and kind, and quite savvy about the things that interest her, as is shown when a saleswoman decides to try and take advantage of her after saying “There’s nothing I love better than a dumb blonde with Daddy’s plastic.” After getting dumped by her boyfriend since “[he] needs a Jackie, not a Marilyn” she decides to follow him to Harvard Law to prove to him that she’s his equal.

After Elle gets to Harvard, she discovers that Warner has gotten engaged to his old girlfriend, but she keeps trying to prove herself to everyone. It’s rather hard, given that everyone she meets immediately writes her off as an empty-headed bimbo. It’s another place where Elle’s humanity shows through- she’s visibly hurt by the comments but it doesn’t make her bitter. Instead she becomes friends with the people who will accept her as she is, and uses her new found legal-ese to help her manicurist get her dog back from her louse of an ex-boyfriend. My favorite scene is probably the one where Elle’s been tricked into showing up at a non-costume party in costume and approaches Warner. He’s still treating her like she’s dumb, and she points out that they got into the same law school. (Not completely true by the way- she got in, he was wait listed until his daddy pulled some strings.) She finally realizes that there’s nothing she can do that will ever make him think better of her… but rather than giving up on the school she only attended for him, it makes her even more determined to do well and show him up in class whenever possible. And she does, easily.

There are some problems in the film. One of the comedic characters that takes an instant dislike to Elle is a fairly militant parody of a feminist (and a lesbian, naturally) but I don’t get the idea that they were saying all feminists are like that, and since we’re supposed to be seeing this through Elle’s eyes I feel like the fact that she never judged that woman back is not entirely irrelevant. And yes, the first-year law student winning a murder trial ending requires a massive suspension of disbelief (although the writers at least tried to explain it, which I appreciate). Warner ends up left out in the cold where he deserves to be after treating both Elle and Vivian badly, Vivian and Elle become friends without either of them having to change who they are (I was dreading a make-over scene, which thankfully never happened), Elle gets a real respect for herself for being something more than a pretty face, and she manages to make some lives better along the way. It’s not perfect, but I still love it.


  1. scarlett says

    Damn, I was toying with a LB post :p

    I really liked this movie because, as you said, Elle demonstrated her intelligence right from the start with her understanding of fashion and prices – she’s not just a ‘dumb blond with daddy’s plastic’. It helps us believe that, yes, she is quite intelligent.I could totally buy that Elle could think her way into Harvard. I would have liked more emphasis on the fact that she DID pass all those exams – it wasn’t just about her cutesy video. But overall, I really liked the movie, and hwo it addressed the ‘dumb blond’ stereotype. (And FYI, I know plenty of image-conscious platinum blonds who are also damn intelligent.)

    And as a side note – I’ve done a fair bit of reading up on both ‘Marilyn’ and ‘Jackie’. Marilyn was a very savvy businesswomen, the first Hollywood star to negotiate her own contract as an independant performer (and heading the move away from the contract system), always looking to better herself as a performer and human being, very cluey and intuitive when it came to people. Jackie, meanwhile, was good at spending men’s money – father’s, step-father’s, hudband’s, the US taxpayers (which at the time was largely men)…

    That’s my two cents.

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    I agree with your take on this mostly, but one negative point is that her application to Harvard involves a video with shots of her in a bikini, and we’re given the impression that this influenced some of the old admissions men to let her in. That reduced the power of her admission as a feminist statement for me, to say the least. It reinforced the idea that smart alone isn’t good enough – a woman also needs to use patriarchal sexual fantasy imagery to get what she deserves.

  3. says

    Not to mention the fact that sending a video admissions essay is not something that’s really an option for law school. Having gone through the application process myself, I definitely roll my eyes at that part of the movie. Her 179 (I think) LSAT score is definitely what got her in, and mostly likely they didn’t even look at the rest. They ought to have focused more on that.

    I love this movie, though another scene I can’t deal with is the “bend and snap” scene. I think it’s a cute, light, smart movie that unfortunately threw in some silly things they thought would be crowd pleasers. The part where Elle’s professor is in the beauty shop having her hair done, and encourages her not to quit law school? That’s my favorite part in the whole movie. It’s the kind of movie I’d be completely happy with my hypothetical future pre-teen daughter watching, because Elle realizes she is smart, she doesn’t need the guy, and she doesn’t have to change herself.

  4. Jennifer Kesler says

    I also liked the idea that being beautiful did NOT get her everything she wanted. Girls are often spoonfed the idea that if they only looked like a supermodel or something, all their problems would be solved.

    Elle’s boyfriend mistook her for a trophy, and she proved to be the full package.

  5. MaggieCat says

    Sarah: I do love Holland Taylor in this movie, and I wish her part was larger. I also love Victor Garber though, so the first time I saw this I was happy he showed up in more of the story. That didn’t turn out quite the way I hoped.

    I agree with your take on this mostly, but one negative point is that her application to Harvard involves a video with shots of her in a bikini, and we’re given the impression that this influenced some of the old admissions men to let her in.

    I don’t see them letting her in because of the video she sent in with her application, what I remember is mostly them looking confused that she sent that at all. And there was a later joke that referenced how she was used to money and looks getting her what she wanted (the “I even hired a Coppola to direct my admissions video” line, which did make me giggle).

    I guess it didn’t read that way because it seemed so goofy and out of left field to me, that it’s possible that I projected that on to the admissions board. As well as the fact that they mentioned her extremely high LSAT score at several points, which made it obvious to me how she got in. Given the confusion during the discussion about how “well, we’ve never had a fashion major before” it was easy for me to take it as silly rather than sexist. (And I can say that that reaction is fairly true to life, since I planned on going to law school for years before I discovered theatre and costume design. I got some weird reactions for that.)

  6. Jennifer Kesler says

    That’s all true, but it still suggests to me that SHE believes no matter what else she’s got working for her, a little sex appeal will put her over the top. Which is the advice women are always getting: “sure, you’re all that, but would a little cleavage kill you? It’s men who are deciding your fate, after all. Might as well use what God gave you.”

    And I’m not saying I judge people for using advantages, especially in a society that heaps disadvantages upon them. It’s just something I’m very tired of seeing in movies AND hearing in real life. That’s all.

    It’s still overall a good human story which sends the message that you can’t judge people on appearance. And it does it in a fairly sneaky way – using a woman whose appearance would be judged as well above average – which means the message might actually penetrate some skulls, while more heavy-handed message movies often run smack into mental roadblocks.

  7. MaggieCat says

    That’s all true, but it still suggests to me that SHE believes no matter what else she’s got working for her, a little sex appeal will put her over the top.

    If we’re talking about her perception that the sex appeal might get her more attention, then I agree with you. But she’s learned by the end that being judged as ‘the pretty girl’ is sometimes more of a hindrance than a help, and not to rely on it to get her through life.

    It’s the idea that the movie was saying that the bikini-wearing video actually helped her get in that’s something I personally don’t see. If anything I think it would have hurt her chances if her test scores and grades hadn’t been as high as they were. As it was, it was just another way that proved this was a completely foreign environment for her. At least in my opinion- your mileage may vary. :-)

  8. Jennifer Kesler says

    Yeah, upon reflection I agree that maybe the video didn’t help her admission. I’m still left with the perception that in her mind, it might have, and that’s the bit that leaves me less than thrilled.

    Again, it’s a prevalent message in real life and that makes me sensitive: you can’t really want it if you’re not willing to show a little skin. The rationalizations boggle the mind.

  9. MaggieCat says

    I’m not thrilled with the video either in theory, but in context the important point to me is that I don’t believe the Elle at the end of the movie would send in that video application.

    For the Elle at the beginning of the film it was her natural reaction to being expected to tell them why she was fabulous because that’s what people have told her she’s good at. The Elle at the end knows that it’s superficial and a double-edged sword and would focus on her academic ability now that she has confidence in that part of herself. So I read that as character growth.

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