'Legally Blonde': THR's 2001 Review

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2001's 'Legally Blonde'
'Legally Blonde' gets by thanks to the magnetic presence of Reese Witherspoon.

On July 13, 2001, MGM brought a breezy comedy to moviegoers nationwide, Legally Blonde. The film, which went on to gross more than $140 million globally and spawn a sequel, is now a perennial summer staple. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below: 

The good news is that there aren't nearly as many dumb-blonde jokes in Legally Blonde as one might expect. The bad news is there aren't too many jokes period.

In another era, this film would have been called "Tammy Goes to Law School," and the role of Elle Woods, well-played here by Reese Witherspoon, would certainly have gone to Debbie Reynolds or Sandra Dee. For this is a mild, somewhat sugary romantic comedy about a young woman with a perky personality who chases the man of her dreams to Harvard Law School only to discover she prefers the law to her knucklehead ex-boyfriend.

Predictable, cutesy and surprisingly short on genuine humor, Legally Blonde gets by thanks to the magnetic presence of Witherspoon. The MGM pic should open well, but whether this Blonde has the shapely legs to sustain a long theatrical run in the heat of summer is doubtful. The film could have a modest success in video and cable markets.

The perfunctory, implausible setup has Elle, a postfeminist girl with only marriage on her mind after graduation from a Los Angeles university, jilted by longtime beau Warner Harrington III (Matthew Davis). Determined to get elected to the U.S. Senate by age 30, this rich kid on his way to Harvard Law School can't afford the burden of a blond airhead for a wife.

Only Elle, while blond, is no airhead. The movie swiftly establishes her as a smart woman but one whose priorities place clothing and nail and hair design far above, say, education or world events. (When a classmate claims to have spent the last two years in Bosnia, Elle remarks that that would explain her hairdo.)

Against all logic, Elle immediately gets accepted into Harvard Law School, too — boy, that was easy. This sets up a cultural clash as Elle's signature pink — worn by her and her Chihuahua, Moonie — fails to jibe with the navy-blue blazer world of law school. Clothing certainly means everything in this movie as the filmmakers display a strong bias for blue-collar duds and exuberant flash over upper-class sartorial conservatism.

Eager to get the movie out of classrooms and libraries, the second half plunges into an absurd storyline that has these first-year law students ditch their books to help a professor defend a woman charged with murder.

Young Australian filmmaker Robert Luketic, directing his first feature and perhaps a little out of his depth, plays much of the comedy too broadly. But this undoubtedly springs from desperation as Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith's screenplay lacks any real humor.

In Sandra Dee's time, Hollywood could portray innocence with a charming straightforwardness. Nowadays, the strain shows. Unwilling to give their heroine the bad habits and social faux pas of the titular character in Bridget Jones's Diary — to which this movie bears a passing resemblance — the filmmakers are baffled how to wring humor out of Elle's milk-and-cookies personality. Instead they take tepid potshots at characters' social attitudes, preppy snobbery, spineless behavior and male chauvinism.

Several actors do register despite the superficial characterizations in the writing. Selma Blair has a strong presence as Elle's rival for Warner's affections, coming on as a bitch initially, then softening into feminine solidarity with the heroine.

Luke Wilson makes an easygoing love interest for Elle, while Victor Garber and Holland Taylor command their classrooms as law professors. Jennifer Coolidge has her moments in the cliche of a "blousy" beautician desperate for male companionship.

Technical credits are pro, especially in costume and set design. It would appear, though, that virtually none of the movie, other than a few overhead shots, was filmed anywhere near Harvard's campus. — Kirk Honeycutt

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