A ‘Legally Blonde’ review

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“I’m here to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves”
– Elle Woods

Legally Blonde is, in this author’s estimation, one of the greatest pieces of late-twentieth century commercial US art.

To be clear, this is a group of films that includes say, Blade Runner, Dazed and Confused (in the way that Dazed and Confused is now a document of the birth of a generation’s narcissism), Apocalypse Now (because the Vietnam war, too, did not happen), and The Matrix.

Elle chooses her future, and lives it. Set aside for a second the central (and certainly initial) motivation for this being the pursuit of some preppy dude (pretty much the opposite of Organic). She sets herself a deceptively simple goal of getting into Harvard. She then marshals reality to achieve this goal, all her pink resources and professional camera crews combine to produce her televisual ‘letter of application’. And there Elle is, bikini shiny, imploring he on the other side of the screen to please oh please, let her live a productive, whole, successful life. And they do. And she does. Consider this.

To a generation of women screened terribly as applicants for some beauty pageant that never happens, forcibly coiffed and ready to dance, Elle is a conceivable way out. They can relate. They know they’ve been screened, and increasingly they don’t give a fuck.

She believes the world’s more dangerous games to be played out by those staffing the ‘top secret Versace think-tank’. She is, of course, not wrong. Those clothed in dead things’ fur, their pockets lined too, pulling on strings we’re all too poor to see, biding no time at all for it is theirs to own anyway. She is in this way wise, a lady tuned to signals rarely given.

This film offers us a tale of redemptive credibility. Elle, clad again in something somehow both stark and flourescent, is told by a US Senator: ‘You can’t get people to care’. Utterly unfazed, she replies, ‘Watch me’. She is brazen, bold, burning to lead the torchless in a lonely-lit trip through a dark night.

She starts the film as another stereotypic bubblegum-popping teen intent on every future, and the one she chooses, adapts to her self, would no doubt require hard work, diligence, and above all, restraint. This is the thing alien to and lacking in all accompanying pop-cult culture of the time. She furrows her brow and gets down to business, and cares little for the views of others but is full of empathy (without overempathising to the point of paralysis). And so, future chosen, standing in front of a holder of major political office (whatever that means), she has not the affront but rather the confidence to state that she’ll single-handedly wake a generation from their slumber.

Note that the prefigurate to her success was obsession. 

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5 Responses to A ‘Legally Blonde’ review

  1. “She starts the film as another stereotypic bubblegum-popping teen intent on every future, and the one she chooses, adapts to her self, would no doubt require hard work, diligence, and above all, restraint. This is the thing alien to and lacking in all accompanying pop-cult culture of the time.”

    True, true, true.

    The gigantic success of the movie has a lot to do with the actress: too sexy wouldn’t have worked, not pretty enough wouldn’t have worked, it has to be a woman who is just a little more of whatever you’re not, in any direction.

    The conceit of the movie is that she’s a dumb blonde who isn’t really a dumb blonde, but it’s never clear why she is first a dumb blonde and then hard working, smart. The way it typically goes in real life is a smart, hard working woman who finds her self having to pretend she’s a dumb blonde to attract attention.

  2. mwigdahl says:

    First of all, your English starts out OK, and I could follow you at first, but then it takes a left turn into gibberish for a few paragraphs. I’m not really sure whether you’re talking about both movies or just the first one, but I’ll confine my remarks to the first one.

    To compare the cultural content of this film to something like Blade Runner is, in my opinion, appalling.

    I’ll grant that the movie shows an apparently vapid, superficial protagonist “making something” of her life. But this appearance is deceptive. Elle Woods is actually portrayed as smart and disciplined right from the start; it’s simply that her initial goal is to achieve happiness, success, and social status by marrying Warner, and she’s focused all her energies on acquiring skills and knowledge that she believes will facilitate this. When her dream falls through due his inability to perceive her positive qualities through the thick layer of cultural superficiality she’s encrusted herself with, even after she wins acceptance to Harvard, only then does she determine to achieve her goals on her own.

    Her acquisition of legal acumen and her display of studying discipline, such as it is, is displayed through a quick montage, as is typical for Hollywood (“I know kung-fu!”). There’s no attempt to show the true grind of studying for a high-education career, or the real costs of that kind of commitment. For all we see, she achieves her accomplishments by simply furrowing her brow determinedly.

    And in the end, the legal world falls helpless before her gaydar and knowledge of haircare. This is a straight-up man-hating revenge fantasy, albeit one of the most amusing of them. In every aspect of the movie we see either the evil and threat of men, or we’re shown the subjection and inferiority of men. Men (think the UPS guy) are easily manipulated and weak-minded, and exist either as hapless oafs or as predatory power figures. Strong women have the power, through manipulating sex appeal, to raise up and cast down men at will. Weak women are weak only because they don’t understand the power of their own sexuality, and can become strong with a little vamping advice from their sisters. Even Emmett, the sole male exception to this portrayal, ends up serving mainly as an ineffective figurehead to unlock the legal gates and allow Elle to strut her stuff in court.

    Living well is the best revenge, they say, and indeed Elle ends up getting everything she ever wanted — friends, high-status man, and personal fame and adulation. Warner, on the other hand, whose high crime was to fail to see past the shell Elle had enclosed herself in, ends up economically castrated and companionless. Mission accomplished, Elle strides off into the sunset.

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