Picturing Justice, the On-Line Journal of Law and Popular Culture

Carrie Menkel-Meadow
is Professor of Law at Georgetown Law Center and writes often on legal ethics, law and popular culture for Picturing Justice and other publications. She recently published, "Can They Do
That?: Legal Ethics in Popular Culture: Of Character and Acts, 48 UCLA L. Rev. 1305 (2001)


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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.

Feature article

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 her law.

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 critical terms.

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 more "face-time."

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

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