2001, PG-13, 96 min. Directed by Robert Luketic. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Coolidge, Luke Wilson, Selma Blair, Victor Garber, Holland Taylor.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., July 13, 2001
Clueless and Dick gave the dumb-blonde tradition (think Sandra Dee) new life in the Nineties, showing some sharp social and political comedy gleaming out at the roots. Legally Blonde isn't nearly as smart -- no talons underneath this Lee Press-On Nails production -- but it still makes for a giggly good time. Witherspoon plays sorority girl Elle Woods, recently dumped by her slick, eyes-on-the-Oval-Office boyfriend for being “Marilyn” material, and not the Jackie O. he needs to ascend to office. Undaunted, Elle applies (and is admitted) to Harvard Law School in order to impress her ex, who's also enrolled there. Of course, the powerfully pink Elle doesn't fit in with all those Harvard stiffnecks -- she's quickly dubbed Malibu Barbie by her classmates -- but her ingenuity and intuition land her a coveted internship at a law firm. There, she's called upon to solve a murder involving a fitness queen and former Delta Nu sister. When material is as intentionally ridiculous as this, there's a certain tacit suspension of disbelief. Moviegoers are allowed, even required, to turn off their bullshit radars: no squabbling over plot contrivances (of which Legally Blonde has many) or with characters who are simply caricatures of real life (with whom Legally Blonde is teeming). But even with that cushion, the film is still sloppily executed. The script, while loaded with some hearty laughs, simply takes jokes one step too far, like someone needling an elbow to your side, saying, “Get it?” The camerawork is unstirring, and first-time feature director Robert Luketic uses Southern California to stand in for Boston that, while very nice to look at, is lazily incongruous with Boston's actual changing seasons. (One dead giveaway: Elle looks out a window at some pretty [fake] snow falling -- no doubt concocted on an L.A. soundstage -- that is quickly followed by a lovely exterior shot of “Cambridge” in which the foliage shows barely a hint of fall's changing colors, and not a lick of snow to be had.) Nitpicky? Maybe. But the most criminal element of Legally Blonde is how underused the fine supporting cast is. The kookily comic Selma Blair (as a Harvard priss) is reduced to a drab, sulky, mulchlike thing. And Luke Wilson, looking more and more like Deputy Dawg, is wasted in another second-banana, boy-toy gig, following similar turns in Charlie's Angels and Dog Park. Legally Blonde gives him little to do than mug aw-shucks-like (to his credit, his “aw-shucks” could rival an early Jimmy Stewart in its earnest affability). So, with so much wrong how could Legally Blonde still come off meringue-pie right? That honor goes entirely to the priceless twitter and tart of Reese Witherspoon. She makes a throwaway character terrifically likable, and transforms a 90-minute, pretty dumb dumb-blonde joke into an hour and a half set for a comedienne coming into herself, further refining the snap-crackle-and-pop timing she first showed off in Alexander Payne's brilliant Election. Legally Blonde may toss Witherspoon a mighty slim bone to work with, but somewhere in that chirpy half-pint frame dwell some meaty comic chops. Goldie Hawn may have found her successor.