“Because I’m not a Vanderbilt, suddenly I’m white trash? I grew up in Bel Air, Warner.”Elle Woods
Elle Woods is a spiritual sister of Clueless’ Cher — privileged and superficial but also genuine and caring. Reese Witherspoon carries the film, bringing Elle to life with bubbling charm, but she finds herself in a script that lacks the wit of Clueless and pulls punches in its own attempts at satire. Elle’s boyfriend is so smarmily awful from the moment we meet him that we never want her to win him back even as she follows him to Harvard. Selma Blair is underused as his new girlfriend, a vacillating foil to Elle in a relationship that is never satisfyingly developed. It briefly seems as if the film is setting up a fun revenge story, before it swerves again into courtroom drama. The issue is less the predictability of the plot than its failure to communicate anything: it wants us to sympathise with Elle because her intelligence is overlooked due to her appearance, yet her courtroom success is based on luck, stereotyping and her superficial knowledge rather than legal study. The film actually makes a far better case for the benefit of hiring from diverse backgrounds — which allows Elle to connect with a client and identify information that her colleagues cannot — but this makes the cast’s total lack of diversity intolerable. Witherspoon is effortlessly charming and it’s easy to understand why Legally Blonde is loved by many who find Elle’s success empowering; it is just unfortunate that the weak script undermines much of its own message beyond a useful warning: never underestimate your opponent.