One of the early morals that kids learn is "Don't judge a book by its cover." I can't attest to who first said that or whether it was ever really intended for discussing the selection of novels and other literary works by their covers or illustrated jackets. Of course, it's obviously intended as a bit of friendly and wise advice about not passing judgment on someone by their looks alone, especially in regards to certain stereotypical physical attributes.
Although all types of people are subject to such typing - such as those of diminutive stature - women with fair or flaxen locks - favorably and negatively referred to as "blondes" - are often the recipients of most such treatment. We've heard that "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and that "blondes have more fun," but at the same time there's the connotation of bubbly and/or ditzy airheads, not to mention all of the "dumb blonde" jokes that are repeatedly passed on by both kids and adults.
Considering much of Hollywood's view and treatment of women in films in general over the decades, it's not surprising that such stereotypes have been and continue to be perpetuated by various movies that use such characters as attractive set dressings and/or as fodder for such humor.
Thus, it's always fun and often refreshing to see movies or characters that turn such stereotypes on their head, but don't do so in a political or preachy fashion. "Legally Blonde" is one such film featuring one such character, although the fair-haired protagonist in it both plays with and against such typing. If you can imagine Alicia Silverstone's high school character in "Clueless" graduating and attending law school only to find herself faced with certain plot elements lifted from "My Cousin Vinny" and any other "small time, unorthodox lawyer saves the day via their innate knowledge" films, then you pretty have this extremely lightweight but generally amusing and cute film.
As directed by Robert Luketic (who's making his feature film debut) and written by screenwriters Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith - the latter of whom are obviously hoping to have lighting strike twice after their well received and witty debut effort, "10 Things I Hate About You" - the film starts off with a fun bang.
The bubbly and vivacious protagonist - who's led a charmed and privileged existence so far - finds her life turned upside down when her boyfriend dumps her, not because she's ugly or he's found someone else, but because in his eyes she's too much of a stereotypical blonde who could ruin his political future. She's naturally devastated and thus has the necessary motivation to try to win him back and later prove him wrong about his stereotypical beliefs about women who look and act like her.
While that premise opens the floodgates of comedic potential and eventual, humorous comeuppance, as she must prove she's not a dumb blonde to succeed in both endeavors, the filmmakers don't mine the material as thoroughly or deeply as one might hope or expect.
Something of a fish out of water type story, the filmmakers initially have the character delightfully oblivious to her effect - in appearance, behavior and attire -- on others in the otherwise staid setting. This, of course, is a reality that only exists in the movies, where characters behave in what's generally unrealistic or at least exaggerated fashion all in the name of comedy and eliciting laughs.
Some of that works here and some doesn't, although one's view of that will depend on their tolerance for such material. Yet, few will probably argue with the observation that the film loses a great deal of its comedic punch as it gets dumber and more predictable once the third act court case comes along and derails what up to that point had been a moderately enjoyable picture. It also doesn't help that one of the bigger intended gags - having Elle show up a party in a Playboy bunny type outfit only to learn that it's not a costume party - was already done in "Bridget Jones's Diary."
Although the attempt is there, the screenwriters' work also doesn't contain as many fun and/or contemporary witticisms and slang as did "Clueless" which was part of what made that 1995 comedy so much fun. The rest was the dead-on performance by Alicia Silverstone in the lead role and like her, Reese Witherspoon delivers a terrific satirical performance here that makes this film and its weak script bearable.
Beyond sporting the correct colored locks, the young actress - hot off films such as "Election" and "Cruel Intentions" - perfectly plays the part of the intelligent, but pampered and occasionally ditzy young woman who's initially unaware of how others view her. While it's unfortunate that the filmmakers occasionally make her do and say some dumb things hoping to generate some laughs (particularly late in the game), Witherspoon emerges mostly unscathed and is the best thing the film has to offer.
Supporting performances from the likes of Jennifer Coolidge ("Down to Earth," "American Pie") as an insecure manicurist; Matthew Davis ("Tigerland," "Urban Legends: Final Cut") playing the self-centered boyfriend who dumps Elle; Luke Wilson ("Charlie's Angels," "My Dog Skip") in the role of her new law school friend; and Ali Larter ("The House on Haunted Hill," "Varsity Blues") as the woman on trial for murdering her husband are okay, but generally flat and uninspired.
Victor Garber ("Titanic," "The First Wives Club") as the professor who turns out to be a lech and Selma Blair ("Cruel Intentions," TV's "Zoe") as Elle's constant thorn in her side fare a bit worse simply because their characters suddenly reverse in their motivational qualities, which turn out to be several developments that simply don't work.
Overall, the film will probably play fairly well to less demanding viewers who like lighthearted and sugarcoated comedies where reality is thrown out the window in favor of broad humor and happy endings. While Witherspoon's fun performance carries much of the film and certainly makes it relatively easy to watch, the weak script and its lack of enough funny moments to sustain a comedy such as this ultimately means that this film might not fair well in it cinematic day in court. Accordingly, "Legally Blonde" rates as a 4 out of 10.