Throughout a recent rewatching of Legally Blonde (2001), I kept trying to think of the perfect word to describe Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon), the main character of the film. All my attempts came close, but they were never close enough to satisfy. She is confident without being cocky. She is privileged without being haughty, and she has the common touch. She has beauty, but she does not flaunt it. She appears to be air-headed, but possesses a drive to overcome any intellectual deficiencies she encounters. She takes the world around her at face value, but is not impervious to learning lessons. In short, she is a charming character and this movie is worth a view.
Legally Blonde starts with the relationship between Elle and her boyfriend Warner Huntington III (Matthew Davis). They are about to graduate from the fictional California University – Los Angeles and he will be heading off to begin law school at Harvard. Thus he decides that his pink and bedazzled Elle was not serious enough for him, and he breaks up with her. Not to be daunted, she decides the best way to win him back is to study for the LSAT exam (the test you must take to enter law school) and get into Harvard herself, which she does. When they stumble upon each other back east, Warner cannot believe Elle has gotten into the same school as he, to which she replies, “What, like it’s hard?” Love that line. She is in for a surprise of her own when at the same moment she discovers that he has become engaged to Vivian Kensington (Selma Blair). Her initial motivation to attend law school now complicated, Elle decides to do what she can to steal Warner away from Vivian. Yet in the process, Elle learns that Warner still questions her aptitude, which then fuels her desire to excel in her studies. This leads to her landing one of the coveted internships with Callahan’s (Victor Garber) law firm, one of her professors. The firm is hired to defend Brooke Taylor Windham (Ali Larter) who is accused of murdering her husband. Elle gains Brooke’s trust because they both went to the same school and were members of the same fraternity. And when Callahan turns out to be not only doubtful of Brooke’s innocence, but makes unwanted advances on Elle, the law student becomes Brooke’s new legal representation. In a moment that makes me chuckle every time I watch it, Elle manages to get Brooke’s charges dismissed on what amounts to be a hair technicality. As she explains while walking out of the courthouse, the rules of hair maintenance are “finite” and they are things any Cosmo girl would understand. You never know when such knowledge might come in handy.
I enjoy Legally Blonde immensely, but there are a few things in it that I could do without. There is a little too much sexual innuendo in it, much of it seemingly unnecessary. It is not too in-your-face or crass like some movies, but some moments are a little more obvious than others. There is one other moment that I felt could have been removed from the film without damaging its integrity in the slightest, and that was the whole bend and snap sequence. One of the side-plots running throughout most of the film is the relationship between Elle and her nail person (is that the right word?), Paulette Bonafonté (Jennifer Coolidge). They develop a solid friendship, and Elle even helps get Paulette’s dog back. But Paulette’s ongoing struggle is her shyness towards the UPS delivery man (Bruce Thomas) that comes occasionally to her salon and on whom she has a crush. Thus Elle introduces her to the bend and snap, and she ends up teaching this supposedly fool-proof movement for attracting men to the rest of the salon. One can make the argument that this is part of her generous nature, but to this viewer it is awkward and not in keeping with the classiness of the rest of the film. It seems tawdry.
While watching Legally Blonde, I struggled with that word I mentioned in my first paragraph until it was suggested to me the following, “Faith, hope, and charity.” I did not expect this from the source it came from, but these are the three theological virtues taught by the Catholic Church, and they perfectly encapsulate Elle’s character. She has faith in her abilities, and they are proven time and again when she gets into law school and earns a place at Callahan’s firm. She displays hope, though misplaced at first, in reigniting her relationship with Warner, but generally in the goodness of the people around her. Thus when Callahan betrays that trust by hitting on her, it makes that scene that much weightier. Finally, her charity is seen in the help she renders to not only Paulette, but the awkward David Kidney (Oz Perkins) in helping him get a date. She may not be Christian, and there is certainly the suggestion that she takes part in premarital sex, for example. But she is virtuous nonetheless. I do not want to excuse her behavior with the old cliche that nobody is perfect, but she is definitely worth rooting for.
Legally Blonde is a witty and fun movie, though I would not recommend it to children. There are good lessons for them to learn, particularly in the strength of Elle’s character. But these are things you can teach your family after the fact. Of course, you do not need a movie to teach you about the importance of being charitable towards others, but it is a nice reminder.