May 14, 2007

Legally Blonde (2001)

When a young Amanda Brown attended Stanford Law School, she discovered that the life of a college student at a highly competitive private university had a kind of problems a bit different than the ones she thought she would find there. While her academic performance at Standford wasn't bad, she found a very hostile and antisocial kind of intellectual elitism among the students, that made school almost a hell for her easygoing, ditsy and somewhat naive personality. During those years at college, Brown wrote many letters to her friends, writing about her funny (and not so funny) experiences on campus in order to find something nice out of them. Soon, the letters became the basis for her first novel, "Legally Blonde", and later, the novel became the basis for a fun movie that would become one of the embodiments of "Girl Power".

"Legally Blonde" is the story of Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon), a young and spoiled valley girl who after graduating from University, seems to be heading for the perfect life after she marries her boyfriend Warner Huntington III (Matthew Davis). However, destiny has a surprise for her: Warner decides not to marry Elle, as he thinks that her style is too frivolous and vain for his plans to become a politician after attending Harvard Law School. Brokenhearted and disappointed, Elle decides that in order to recover Warner, she needs to prove him that her life can be more than shopping and beauty salons, and that she can be as intelligent as he is. So with that in mind and and exceptional LSAT score, Elle travels to Harvard determined to become one of the top students in her class. In Harvard she'll find not only difficult classes, but also the hostile and skeptic reception from the rest of the students.

Remaining relatively faithful to Brown's novel, "Legally Blonde" joyfully plays with the typical conventions of chick flicks and gives them a nice (and much needed) twist. Avoiding the usual stereotypes of the teen comedy, the screenplay by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith succeeds in that it is not only funny, but also witty and surprisingly intelligent. Like the source novel, "Legally Blonde" is more than a romantic comedy about winning back a boyfriend, it is ultimately a tale of self-discovery about a woman decided to surpass what was expected from her and become better without stopping from being herself. While silly at times, the story never loses its charm thanks to an assortment of funny and well developed characters that turn this piece of fluff into a very funny and respectable comedy film.

In this his first feature length film, director Robert Luketic takes the wise decision of taking a restrained approach and simply letting his cast do the magic. This simplistic take on the story works for the best, as by keeping the film focused entirely on the characters and the story, Luketic avoids teen comedy's clichéd devises such as over-the-top physical comedy or the abuse of toilet humor. In fact, this focus often brings back good memories of those fish out of water comedies of old, but with of course, a very sleek and modern approach that benefits from the good dose of post-feminism (and fortunately, not overtly preachy) that carries the source novel. While not exactly a very original work, some credit must go to Luketic for managing to get some remarkable performances by his cast in this his debut as a director.

Now, the true highlight of the movie, and probably the best reason to give this film a chance is without a doubt Reese Witherspoon's performance as Elle Woods. As the determined blonde of the title, Witherspoon is delightful and shows an extraordinary talent for comedy, having lots of fun while making her character a very real and sympathetic person, far from the stereotypical Valley girls that are often used as stock villains in teen comedies. As her former boyfriend Warner, Matthew Davis has some nice scenes, but he is completely overshadowed by co-stars Luke Wilson and Selma Blair. Wilson showing off his natural comedic talent and Blair making a nice performance as Elles's rival. Jennifer Coolidge and Holland Taylor appear in supporting roles that only improve the film's charm with their great performances.

If one approaches "Legally Blonde" expecting some deep and insightful comedy, the disappointment will be, without a shadow of a doubt, of truly enormous proportions. However, taking on account the lack of pretensions of this movie, it becomes a very funny experience that never gets boring despite its complete lack of realism in its plot. In fact, one could even say that the film's big and only problem is the fact that despite its twists, the story ends up as predictable for the very nature of the fish out of water style of comedy (underdod beats obstacles against all odds). Still, while the ending may be predictable, it's everything in between what truly matters, so "Legally Blonde" makes up for that flaw with very funny jokes and the great performances by its cast.

"Legally Blonde" is not a comedy masterpiece, and without Witherspoon, it probably would lose a lot of its charm, nevertheless, it's joyful play on the genre's typical stereotypes, together with its nice message and why not, its unabashed silliness, make it an extremely attractive and charming comedy for those days when mindless entertainment is preferred over complex film-making. Reese Witherspoon makes what otherwise would be typical fluff, into almost comedic gold, and "Legally Blonde" is legally good.


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