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Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Blonde's in your court



Legally Blonde

Rating: * * * *
Japanese title: Cutie Blonde
Director: Robert Luketic
Running time: 96 minutes
Language: English
Opens April 27

It used to be that the WSLB (Wealthy, Sexy, Leggy Blonde) had a certain mission in Hollywood: to play the Bad Girl. In soaps, sitcoms and movies galore, WSLBs were snide and self-seeking, while the smart, perky heroine (most often brunette: See Julia Roberts) beat the odds to get the guy or the honors, whichever came first. Secretly, we were getting tired of this. Deep down, we knew this formula was wrong. To this day, I bemoan the fact that Jodie Foster was a brunette in "Silence of the Lambs." If she had sported platinum-blonde hair bouncing past her shoulders, Dr. Lecter would have come clean right in the beginning and saved everyone a lot of trouble.

News photo
Reese Witherspoon in "Legally Blonde"

So, finally: a movie that highlights what WSLBs can do once they put their mind to it. Directed by Robert Luketic, "Legally Blonde" is about a brand-crazed Bel Air girl ditched by her political-career-oriented boyfriend for the sole reason that she's "too blonde." He feels that in order to become a senator by 30, he must "marry a Jackie, not a Marilyn." Not to be thrown over so easily, the girl defies all obstacles and is accepted into Harvard Law School. Her one goal is to get him back and prove that with guts and brains, a Marilyn can become a Jackie with a flick of her Dior-perfumed wrist.

Reese Witherspoon, whose off-the-chart WSLB factor makes her the deserving centerpiece of this film, is in real life enrolled at Stanford. What's more, the story was based on the book by blonde attorney Amanda Brown, founder of America's first Blonde Legal Defense Fund. The production notes insist that the underlying message here is, "[Ahem.] It's impermissible to discriminate a person by how she looks." All these factors combined make "Legally Blonde" excellent viewing.

Elle (Witherspoon) is a senior at CULA in Southern California and president of her sorority club. She's so blonde it hurts, has declared pink as her signature color, and what she doesn't know about Italian brands is zilch. Elle would have been totally happy with her life, if only her boyfriend, Warner Huntington III (Matthew Davis), had not discarded her instead of proposing with a 24-carat "rock," as Elle and her friends were sure he was planning to do. But he sallies off to Harvard Law School without a backward glance.

Elle decides it's time to switch lanes: She will be accepted to Harvard, too, and show Warner that she is his equal and worthy of his love. Three months later, she's in Cambridge with about 80 suitcases crammed with pink outfits from Bottega Veneta, her pet Chihuahua cradled in her arms. Her fellow students take one look and snigger: "Who's the Barbie doll?"

Unperturbed, Elle wastes no time reacquainting herself with Warner, but he's already engaged to brunette Vivian (Selma Blair), who oozes Boston breeding from underneath her staid ensembles. Still, Elle's confidence never falters. She finds allies in the local manicurist Paulette (Jennifer Coolidge) and the brotherly Emmet (Luke Wilson).

Emmet turns out to be assisting professor Callahan (Victor Garber), recruiting the best students on campus to help out in court cases. Elle, Warner and Vivian are handpicked to assist in a trial in which their client, a blonde fitness-instructor, is accused of murdering her older, billionaire husband. Elle demonstrates her intelligence and wherewithal by first winning the trust and confidence of the wife, then pinning down the real culprit -- not by clever sleuthing at the crime scene, but through her extensive knowledge of haircare.

The screenplay by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith is fast-paced, biting and hilarious, drawing out Witherspoon's charms to maximum advantage. There are many moments to savor, like when Elle tells her parents about her plans for law school (while relaxing in the family pool). Her martini-sipping dad guffaws: "Sweetheart, you don't need law school. That's for ugly, boring, serious people and you're not any of those things!"

Undoubtedly, though, the biggest attraction of "Legally Blonde" is the visuals: a wonderfully skewed combination of candy-colored girlie aesthetics and the heavy grays of the world of Ivy League Law. The two never quite gel, and Elle remains the tropical flower transferred to a colder climate, but flourishing wonderfully nevertheless.



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