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.