Review of Legally Blonde
by Taunya Lovell Banks, University of Maryland School of Law
Legally Blonde, a summer comedy, raises the not-so-novel
question, "do blonde women have problems being taken seriously?".
Although this tongue-in-cheek comedy takes deliciously hilarious
jabs at sorority life, Southern California, and law school culture,
especially Harvard Law School, it contains a serious message
about life and law school. There are many roads to success, even
in law school.
Woods (Reese Witherspoon), the blonde protagonist in Legally
Blonde, is a fashion merchandizing major at UCLA with a 4.0
grade point average. On the surface she seems to reflect LA cultural
stereotypes - trendy materialism and hedonism. It is no accident
that she shares her name with a fashion magazine and a fashion
model, Elle Macpherson. Elle's family even lives across the street
from television producer Aaron Spelling of Beverly Hills 90210
At the beginning of the film
Elle's only focus seem to be on getting married to her long-time
WASPy boyfriend Warner (Mathew Davis II). Instead of the much-anticipated
marriage proposal, Warner dumps Elle. In Warner's words, Elle
is not "marriage material" for a future U.S. Senator.
She is a "Marilyn," not a "Jackie." Determined
to win Warner back, Elle decides to follow him to Harvard Law
School. By this time, viewers already know that despite the California
bubble gum music, and Elle's over-the-top love of the color pink,
she is not your stereotypical blonde.
When Elle announces her intent
to attend law school, her friends and family are surprised. They
describe law students as boring, ugly and serious - not characteristics
they value. Elle studies hard and earns a 179 (out of a possible
180) on the Law School Admissions Test. The male, all-white Harvard
Law School Admissions Committee, although troubled by her fashion
merchandizing major, admits Elle using a "diversity"
rationale - not enough bubbly, buxom blondes in the class! Ironically,
Warner, initially wait-listed, gets admitted after his father
calls the school - wealth-based affirmative action?
From the very beginning Elle
seems out of place at Harvard. She comes to her first law school
class armed only with a pink heart-shaped note pad and matching
pink pen. Even when she decides to take law school seriously,
she still seems out of step.
Elle clearly marches to the
beat of a different drummer, as evidenced by a scene where her
pink-colored Apple computer sticks out among a sea of black PCs.
She hands out her resume on pink scented paper and comes into
the court in full pink ensemble. Perhaps, the intent again is
to reinforce the message that looks can be deceiving. You should
not judge a book by its color?
Legally Blonde also causes us to question some stereotypes
by sometimes reinforcing stereotypes about law school and lawyers.
Professor Stromwell (Holland Taylor), her only female professor,
seems like a female version of One L's infamous Professor
Kingsfield. Professor Callahagan (Victor Garber), also a partner
in a prestigious law firm, holds the keys to a prestigious clerkship;
he also is a sexual harasser. No one, including her fellow students,
takes Elle seriously. She even is denied entry into a study group.
Nevertheless, Elle finds power
in her blonde beauty, using it as an asset as opposed to a liability.
She uses this power to help Dorky David (Oz Perkins), an overweight
nerdy law student, get a date; and again to disarm the lawyers
in the court who assumed it would be an easy win with her as
opposing counsel. Ultimately, Elle succeeds in court because
of her knowledge about fashion and hair, not necessarily because
of her legal acumen. She happens to be the right "lawyer"
at the right time. Perhaps, this is the true beauty of diversity--
a stereotypical law student might be much too bookish to have
time for a perm.
There also is a feminist undertone
to the movie. Elle's sorority sisters, although questioning her
decision to attend law school, are supportive. She in turn supports
and keeps secret the confidences of another sorority sister,
a defendant in a murder trial. There also is a broader camaraderie
among women in the film - especially working women (from the
nail tech to Professor Stromwell). They help each other and seem
to know that no matter what you look like, some men treat all
women the same -- badly.
Yet Legally Blonde is
not an anti-male film. There are positive male figures. Emmett
Richmond (Luke Wilson), the promising associate, gives up a partner-track
job to maintain his own integrity and support Elle. Dorky David
aids Elle in court. Even the UPS man comes across as supportive.
Legally Blonde conveys a serious and somewhat subversive
message: you can rise above everyone's expectations or imposed
limitations (even and especially your own) to become something
more - even if your initial reasons for going in that direction
are not the reasons that cause you to continue to go in that
direction. This message is not limited to blonde women, but applies
to anyone who tends to be judged by stereotypical assumptions.
Legally Blonde suggests that you do not have to be
mean-spirited, unattractive, or want your enemies to fail to
be successful. For Elle, success on her own terms is the best
revenge. This is a refreshingly different take on law school
Posted September 14, 2001