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Legally Blonde

  legally blonde
Reese Witherspoon, and a wee dog, leave their mark on Harvard Yard.

© 2001, MGM
All Rights Reserved

"Legally Blonde" (IMDb listing) is "Clueless" goes to law school, with a little dash of Alexander Payne's "Election" thrown in. It poses the all important question: Can a blonde survive law school?

Apparently they can. And in high style as well. "Legally Blonde" is a slight, charming picture who's main intention is to act as a Reese Witherspoon star vehicle. Nevertheless, the film is made consistently engaging by the supporting cast and a tiny little chihuahua named Bruiser.

Elle Woods (Witherspoon) is a fashionable, cherished student at a trendy Southern California college. After being dumped by her senator-aspiring boyfriend (Matthew Davis, "Pearl Harbor"), Elle sulks for a short time, then decides to follow him to Harvard and enter the law program to keep tabs on him and his new girlfriend (Selma Blair, "Cruel Intentions"). With the help of her professors, fellow law students, and a teaching assistant (Luke Wilson, "Bottle Rocket"), Elle finds herself embroiled in the case of Brooke Taylor (Ali Larter, "Final Destination"), a fitness guru charged with the murder of her husband. Elle finds solidarity in the accused and undertakes a crusade to find a way to clear her name. While most lawyers use skill and years of study to fight injustice, Elle forgoes that and uses her fashion intuition, personality, and sorority connections to free the jailed woman.

Based on the book by Amanda Brown, "Legally Blonde" is meant from the very opening to give Reese Witherspoon a chance to shine and to deeper explore her beaming personality. A good, but never great actress, Witherspoon cannot hold "Legally Blonde" on her shoulders for too long before the film begins to wobble. It's a cute performance, and with the help of costume designer Sophie Carbonell, and some channeling of her Tracey Flik character from "Election," Witherspoon finds the Elle character completely.

But thank God there is a wonderful supporting cast to help Witherspoon out when the weight of the sunny character becomes too much. Such twenty-something luminaries as Selma Blair, Linda Cardellini ("Freaks And Geeks"), Ali Larter, Luke Wilson, Jessica Cauffiel ("Urban Legends : Final Cut"), Meredith Scott Lyn ("Forces Of Nature"), and Alanna Ubach ("Clockwatchers") fill out the cast, and some old-schoolers like Holland Taylor ("The Practice"), Raquel Welch (aptly cast, but woefully underused), and the great up and coming comedienne Jennifer Coolidge ("Down To Earth," "Best In Show") do their best to back up the fresh faces with a little time-tested talent.

As a lonely manicurist with serious self-esteem issues, Coolidge steals the movie away from Witherspoon through her ease with a sight gag and a consistent willingness to look foolish. Her scenes of courtship with a smarmy chump of a UPS delivery man are a thing of beauty, and Coolidge elevates the material past its deadly WB-ish origins.

Freshman director Robert Luketic and screenwriters Karen McCullah Kutz and Kirsten Smith try their very best to instill "Legally Blonde" with color and spirit, and for the most part they succeed. Luketic particularly seems to be having a blast with opposing color pallets (Elle's hot pinks colliding with the drab browns of Harvard) and fiddling with the comedy here and there. Little detours in the comedy including Elle's best friend's total familiarity with a manicure shop—so much so that she can converse in fluent Korean with the clerks—and the aforementioned UPS guy, feel like Luketic is taking a slight deviation from the tepid script and trying to find wackier jokes to enliven the narrative.

I only wish there were more screwball moments like those, since they are the only times "Legally Blonde" really made me laugh out loud. Tragically, director Luketic feels compelled to stick to the script, which eventually results in a cataclysmically botched attempt to layer drama into the fold of the picture. It's an attempt to add unnecessary obstacles to Elle's journey just so the film can end with an underdog climax. "Legally Blonde" is solid enough when it's just enjoying itself. There is no need to dampen, what has been up to this point and remains in the end, a surprisingly appealing and sweet comedy.

Filmfodder Grade: B

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