Ms. Wood Goes to Washington:
But is She As Virtuous As Mr. Smith?
Review of Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde
by Carrie Menkel-Meadow
In the much awaited sequel
to Legally Blonde, Elle Wood leaves her Boston law firm
when she learns that, like most lawyers, her law firm works hard
for its money and lets the clients, not moral principles, determine
what to work on. Having discovered her dear pet's mother is captive
in an animal testing laboratory for cosmetics, the much cosmeticized
Ms. Woods decides to go to Washington to lobby for a prevention
of testing on animals bill. Whether Washington DC is seen as
the white town of its marble monuments or the more grey town
of corruption, graft and logrolling, Ms. Woods approaches it
in her definitive pink. Rejecting one outfit as "too Nancy,"
another as "too Hilary" and a third as "too Monica"
(in probably the funniest lines in the movie) she settles on
perfect Jackie Kennedy pillbox pink, complete with hat and gloves,
to climb the dark suit laden steps of the Capitol and fight for
When last I wrote a review of
Legally Blonde 1, I wrote as a former citizen of LA and
Boston to rave about how that movie required "east"
to confront its bigoted view of "west," dumb blonds
and women's epistemology (that's an academic's way of saying
knowledge about fabric, make-up and beauty tips). This time I
write as a citizen of Washington to complain that while this
second movie sought to do the same thing - endear us to Elle
Wood's more authentic 'women's ways of knowing," -- it ultimately
fails, not for all the reasons the movie critics have complained
about - bad jokes, an even more dumbed down Elle, but because
Elle's eventually successful modus operandi is no better than
the "corrupt" Washington "bill becomes a law"
story she is supposed to supplant, or "rupture" in
The film pays its obvious homage to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,
replicating some of its scenes (the Lincoln Memorial for inspiration,
the spirited speech to the Congressional floor) and in case you
are a young viewer and have never seen the original, a cut of
the original Jimmy Stewart film is on full display.
But, what should and could have been a similar turn on the ways
things are usually done (the trial scene in Legally Blonde
1), this film merely substitutes Elle's networking her former
Delta Nu sorority sisters (while she claims to be "going
to the people") for the way present-day legislators drum
up support from their own "fraternity" of contributors,
interest groups and golf and restaurant buddies. Elle's supposedly
more "principled" stance against her boss, fellow Delta
Nu and Harvard Law Graduate, (but needing to be re-elected from
the contributions of a cosmetics manufacturer), Congresswoman
Victoria Rudd (played by Sally Field, failed TV Supreme Court
justice) is really no more than business as usual for Washington
lobbying. (Did screenwriters who haven't spent enough time in
this venerable capital, really not have enough of an imagination
to come up with a story line that would in fact have made Elle's
victory more principled or democratic (or at least based on more
accurate Congressional bill-making rules)?
With the help of her own Washington insider, Wellington (read
Watergate) doorman, Sid Post (a waste of Bob Newhardt talent),
Elle networks her friends who organize a "Million Dog March,"
as she trades on personal relationships to secure the support
of foes (Committee Chairs and conservative Republicans) by calling
on Delta Nu handshakes, the services of her loyal hairdresser
friend, dispensing services (probably unlawfully under Congressional
lobbying rules) and even puppy love (even if politically correct
gay puppy love). Even her ambitious rival in the Congresswoman's
office eventually helps her with blackmail (and Elle does nothing
to stop it), as Congresswoman Rudd casts the final vote to support
Elle's bill against her own contributors' will, even if only
because her aide has her on tape acknowledging her own dishonesty.
Is Elle any better than the lawyers at the Boston law firm she
left? Means justify the ends....zealous advocacy.....anything
to win......passion for the client's cause - you take your pick.
She may believe in her mission, but her tactics and behaviors
are lawyering and lobbying as usual.
This is not Mr. Smith Came to Washington. If Jimmy Stewart, like
Reece Witherspoon, was naive when he stepped onto the Congressional
set, his film is about the real triumph of truth, democracy and
all those myths we Americans like to believe in. Elle Wood has
merely shown us how Washington lobbying can be twisted, like
hair on a roller, to new kinds of curls when the "rollers
and shakers" change from male to female. Is this what we
should be applauding? Substitution of a "new girls network"
for the "old boys network"? I don't think so. And,
should "the people" and Congressional representatives
be exhorted to act because they are all "beautiful"?
I don't think that either. Even a simple, "because you care"
would have been better (and sufficiently "pink"!).
While this movie took on an important new legal subject, the
making of law (or as we say here in DCB the making of sausage),
it really didn't have the critical bite of its predecessor. Although
we want to both laugh at and admire Elle Wood's perseverance,
spirit and her blending of "natural beauty" knowledge
with her rigorous Harvard Law education, this film offers us
an Elle who looks a whole lot like those drab guys (and girls)
in suits who make deals on the streets and in the restaurants
near my office, even if she does it in flashier colors and with
Lest I sound too much like a dispirited and cynical observer
of the Washington political process and its simplistic Hollywood
depiction here, I do want to single out a few nice touches. Elle
brings her sorority's ritual of the "snap cup," in
which members of a group write down something nice about their
fellow group members to be read out and be "snapped"
for approval, to her Congressional office. Now, imagine a Washington
political (and journalistic?) process in which people actually
said nice things about each other, rather than bad B that would
be a creative (and fictitious) movie. (Actually, some people
in my field (conflict resolution facilitation) tried that for
several years with "harmony retreats" for Congressional
representatives in Hershey, Pennsylvania, to try to modify some
of the overly confrontational behavior of our warring two party
system. At this writing, it doesn't seem to be working). Also,
imagine the delight of the screenwriters that this film, preaching
the progressive values of gay puppy love, should presciently
be released just as Lawrence v. Texas was decided (striking down
Texas' sodomy laws). Sometimes fact and fiction come together.
If Elle Wood could get a conservative Republican to accept his
gay dog and Justice Kennedy could come to accept his gay fellow
citizens, then maybe we can use animals and Elle's personal relationships
to dramatize a few other important human causes that need legal
action (curtailment of civil liberties, spouse and woman abuse,
family poverty, just to name a few....)
Well, as this movie ended Elle had her eyes set on the White
House so I hope that if there is going to be a Legally Blonde
3, ( "Blonde Ambition" anyone?), the writers will
give us a better chance to use Elle's authenticity (I can't believe
I am saying that about a "made-up" girl) to right a
few wrongs when she turns the White House Pink.
Posted July 28, 2003