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'Legally Blonde'

'Legally Blonde' drops the bombshell and makes a case for girl power

Friday, July 13, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Did you hear the one about the blonde? This summer you will. And what you will hear will be bubbly, ebullient praise for "Legally Blonde," a cute comedy as fluffy as the thick, long locks that cascade over star Reese Witherspoon's shoulders.

 
    'LEGALLY BLONDE'

RATING: PG-13, mild profanity and sexual references

STARRING: Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Selma Blair

DIRECTOR: Robert Luketic

CRITIC'S CALL: 3 stars

 
 

Witherspoon stars as Elle Woods, who looks and sounds like the cousin of Alicia Silverstone's "Clueless" character. Elle is a sorority president at California University in Los Angeles who expects her well-to-do preppy boyfriend Warner Huntington II (Matthew Davis) to propose marriage.

Instead, he breaks up with her. He's bound for Harvard Law School with political ambitions, explaining, "I need to marry a Jackie, not a Marilyn."

Elle reacts like any self-confident, blond, privileged California girl: She goes after what she wants, applying to Harvard Law to prove she's smart and savvy enough to be a politician's wife.

Up to this point, "Legally Blonde" creeps along, occasionally offering amusing moments amidst the usual repertoire of blonde jokes (she has a 4.0 grade point average, but her major is fashion merchandising; she gets "a Coppola" to direct her admissions video; she proves her legal prowess by saying "I object" when guys whistle at her on the street). It's OK, but nothing to write to Cosmo about.

Once Elle gets to Harvard, with her costumed pet Chihuahua in tow, "Legally Blonde" earns its stripes (or would that be highlights?). Elle loses and regains her confidence, befriends a down-on-her-luck manicurist (Jennifer Coolidge), encounters an East Coast snob (Selma Blair) and tries to win back Warner.

Among other cast members, blink and you'll miss Raquel Welch in a courtroom cameo as a wealthy woman whose ex-husband is murdered. Linda Cardellini, almost unrecognizable from her role on TV's "Freaks and Geeks," plays Welch's aptly-named daughter, Chutney.

Holland Taylor essentially reprises her brittle, domineering judge character from TV's "The Practice" as Professor Stromwell, a tough teacher who sporadically causes the perpetually smiling Elle to frown.

Victor Garber plays a more sympathetic prof who encourages Elle despite her outrageous outfits and her, like, immature, stilted manner of speaking. His young research assistant, Emmett (Luke Wilson), is attracted to Elle, but since this is ultimately a film about blond empowerment, all love stories take a back seat to Elle's ability to defy the expectations of those around her.

"Legally Blonde" breaks no new ground, but it is a thoroughly enchanting fairy tale that's also pretty innocent for a PG-13 film. Aside from some comedic profanity and mostly inoffensive sexual references (students in a law class hilariously debate a case involving a sperm bank), there's little content that would make most parents blush.

First-time feature film director Robert Luketic, previously unknown for a short film he directed called "Titsiana Booberini," capably puts Elle through her paces to achieve personal and academic contentment.

The script, by "10 Things I Hate About You" screenwriters Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, hampers Luketic's direction in the early going. Elle's life in the sorority house is unimaginative and the initial blonde shtick is tired. But after the first 15 minutes of this 96-minute film, the script improves (and the blond lifestyle minutiae becomes more creative), allowing Luketic to set a brisk pace befitting his perky lead character.

The script's only other failing comes late in the movie, when a seemingly nice character is revealed to be a creep and remains in jerk mode. It's a twist that rings false.

Witherspoon, a talented actress who has most often proved herself adept at drama, gets to show a lighter comedic side. Elle has the chipper nature of Witherspoon's "Election" character, Tracey Flick, only for Elle it's not a front that hides a conniver lurking beneath.

"You need to have more faith in people. You might be surprised," good-hearted Elle says, absolutely convinced of her words.

Though having faith in Hollywood to produce innocuous, entertaining movies is usually too much to ask, it's worth it in the case of "Legally Blonde."

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