THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


One could be excused for dismissing Legally Blonde at face value. The movie is saddled with an unfortunately lame title, and the premise (ditzy blonde goes to Harvard) does not exactly ring of cinematic brilliance. On the surface, the film appears to have all the depth of a Clairol commercial. Remember, though: your parents warned you not to judge a book by its cover for a reason. Dismissing Legally Blonde would mean missing one of the funniest comedies of the year. I got more laughs out of this one than I did from Scary Movie 2, Crocodile Dundee in L.A., Down to Earth, Say It Isn't So, and Freddy Got Fingered combined.

Reese Witherspoon plays Elle Woods, the aforementioned ditzy blonde. She is popular, well-accessorized, and she's been in a Ricky Martin video. At her sorority house, the girls all look up to her. Elle is happily in love with Warner (Matthew Davis), who is what one character in Sixteen Candles would have termed a "greasy oily beau hunk." At dinner one night, Elle believes Warner is going to propose. Instead, he breaks up with her, suggesting that his burgeoning political career requires him to marry "a Jackie, not a Marilyn." Devastated, Elle decides that she needs to be taken seriously. She applies for admission to Harvard Law School, where Warner is also a student. Her application video is "directed by a Coppola" and features plenty of gratuitous shots of Elle cavorting poolside in a hot pink bikini. To everyone's surprise, she gets accepted.

Reese Witherspoon discovers a knack for the law as well as for accessorizing in Legally Blonde
Acceptance to college is one thing; acceptance among one's peers is something else altogether. Elle finds herself an outcast. Worse yet, Warner has found his Jackie - a snooty prep named Vivian Kensington (Selma Blair). Since success is the best revenge, our blonde heroine cracks the books and is soon honored with an internship with her professor's law firm. They are defending a murder suspect who just happens to be Elle's former aerobics instructor, Brooke Taylor-Windmark (Ali Larter). Elle is convinced that Brooke is innocent. "Exercise produces endorphins. Endorphines make people happy. Happy people don't kill their husbands," she reasons. Eventually, though a series of comic mishaps, she gets the chance to be lead attorney on the case. If she wins, it will be the ultimate proof of her ability.

One of the clever things about Legally Blonde is that it doesn't make fun of its central character. Elle is not dumb, she's just smart about different things. That makes her extremely likable. A lot of movies would have her stumbling backwards into success, almost in spite of herself. This one makes her smart in her own way. Witherspoon gets this idea and plays it to the hilt. Yeah, the girl is ditzy but don't call her stupid.

I suppose this is, in many ways, a female empowerment picture. Girls will certainly take to the idea that you can be pretty, trendy, and popular without being vacuous. But I think the movie plays beyond just that audience. This works as a comedy, regardless of your age or gender. The dialogue is sharply written and first-time director Robert Luketic provides a bouncy pace. Witherspoon gives a knockout comic performance, backed by an able cast. Selma Blair is perfect as Elle's snooty rival, and there's a great part for Jennifer Coolidge (American Pie) as a shy manicurist who gets a confidence boost from the blonde law student.

The movie is lightweight and the trial at the end perhaps gets a bit silly, but so what? Legally Blonde is funny from start to finish. I recently had a conversation with someone in which we were each trying to remember the last movie that really made us laugh. Neither of us could come up with anything. Now there is an answer.

( out of four)

Legally Blonde is rated PG-13 for language and sexual references. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.
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