Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Oh Where Were You Then, Victor Garber? And How Did Legally Blonde Happen?!

The Good: Moments of humor, Acting
The Bad: Contrived plot, Overbearing soundtrack, Lack of character development, Look, Obviousness, Most humor, Details
The Basics: Mildly entertaining, Legally Blonde is a one-trick pony that gets redundant on reiterating all blondes aren't idiots. Well, duh!

It's hard to expect much of a film like Legally Blonde when one reads the plot summary on the back of the video and the plot seems like such teen fare. In fact, one doesn't get more teen oriented than the Hollywood beautiful young woman going off to prove herself against the odds. So, when I sat down to Legally Blonde I knew I'd have to suspend my disbelief and some of my better judgment if I was to even enjoy the film.

It wasn't enough.

The truth is, it's possible still to put out a film like this that I won't pan. This one, however, did not do it.

Elle Woods is a California socialite who was president of her sorority and is expecting to be proposed to by her boyfriend. By the sheer amount of set-up, we know that her boyfriend, Warner, is going to dump her instead. And he does. He says she's not serious enough. So, Elle ups and gets into Harvard Law School to show him that she is serious. The moment Elle meets the other Hollywood handsome man, Emmett, we know that the story is one of "those" stories. It's one of those stories where Elle will apply herself, work hard, prove herself, and in the process realize that she's too good for Guy A and end up with Guy B.

Surprise, the films like this that I don't pan are the ones that surprise me, that I don't call in the first few moments. This one, well, I was dead on. The factor that felt especially insulting to me was the lack of deviation from that formula. There were no attempts to alter that formula, no surprises. There was no moment that I smiled because something unexpected happened.

That's not to say the film is without humor. It has its moments. They are few and far between. Most of them are obvious gags that the average twelve year old would catch before they appeared. A perfect example of this is when Emmett's new fiance, Vivian, invites Elle to a party when Elle overhears her talking to another person. She tells Elle it's a costume party. Being that Vivian's characterization is vindictive and cruel, we know Elle is going to dress up and be the only one in a costume at the party. Well, that's precisely how it happens.

While the pace of the film is even, the soundtrack is not. Perhaps it is the hallmark of a teen-oriented film; the soundtrack breaks out in the most insipid pop music at various points in the movie. It tends to be more distracting than refreshing. It tends to have the feeling of, "we have some time to kill, let's distract everyone from that fact with some music." And sure enough, the film clocks in at 96 minutes.

The look is completely oriented toward younger people or those who feed into the notion of the Hollywood ideal of beauty. Reese Witherspoon is thin, blonde and while she plays the character well, everyone around her is equally unrealistically beautiful. This is one of those films where I watch and I'm screaming for someone who looks like someone I might see on the street to appear. They don't; this is a beautiful people film.

I will compliment the acting. Reese Witherspoon plays Elle well, Luke Wilson is surprisingly good in the obvious role of Emmett. Supporting players Victor Garber (from television's Alias) and Holland Taylor (The Practice) are wonderful for the roles that are written. Victor plays Callahan and near the end of the film, his character takes a turn for the sleazy that allows Elle to fulfill her character arc and it didn't read right. I saw it coming from the opening of that scene, but it still didn't fit.

The real killer for my suspension of disbelief is in the details. This film is lacking in details. It's a sweeping attempt to say "All blondes aren't dumb!" The thing is, in order to create that, the character needs to support that. Elle has ambition and possibly talent, but for a college student with a 4.0, it's completely unrealistic that she would appear for her first day of class unprepared. I can even suspend my disbelief to allow for Elle sneaking her dog into everywhere she goes, but even that seems pointless; there are several shots throughout the film where the dog is focused on randomly, as if just to say "the dog is also in this scene."

The truth is, I think we, as a society have moved past this. It takes a teen to be caught up in such obvious prejudices as "all blondes are dumb" or such. It is an unnecessary fight and films like Legally Blonde seem all the more pointless for trying to make it into a real issue. The problem with Legally Blonde is while it attempts to dispel one obvious prejudice, it reinforces others. All people who attend Harvard are not rich snobs, all West Coast people don't say "like" every other sentence and not all wealthy people are superficial or sexually predatory.

It's a shame that the acting in this film was so good; while I watched it, I could think of nothing other than how I didn't think anyone ought to endure such an obvious piece. Still, there are worse movies . . .

For other works with Reese Witherspoon, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Monsters Vs. Aliens
Four Christmases
Friends - Season 6


For other film reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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