Friday, May 22, 2015

Legally Blonde

3/4

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Matthew Davis, Selma Blair, Victor Garber, Jennifer Coolidge, Ali Larter

Rated PG-13 for Language and Sexual References

"Legally Blonde" is like a pop song; not particularly memorable or personally enriching, but it's catchy and it goes down easy.  It's surprisingly fun, and a lot of that has to do with the sparkling performance by its lead actress.

Bubble-brained Elle Woods (Witherspoon) is the ultimate valley girl: she's obsessed with fashion, looking good and is dating the school hunk, Warner (Davis).  But on the night that she thinks he's going to propose, he surprisingly dumps her.  He wants to be a senator by the time he's 30, and he needs "someone serious," or as Elle realizes, a law student.  To win him back, she follows him to Harvard Law, where she is met with disdain and ridicule by her classmates, particularly Vivian Kensington (Blair), Warner's new fiancĂ©e.  Elle, however, is a lot smarter than everyone gives her credit for (herself included), and she may just be able to make her own way in the world.

Although she doesn't have the same "aura" of Meryl Streep or "star-power" of Angelina Jolie, there's no denying the acting ability of Reese Witherspoon.  From playing a vulnerable teenage girl who is preyed upon by a psychopathic lover ("Fear") to a woman coming to terms with her grief ("Wild"), the actress has repeatedly demonstrated talent and versatility.  As Elle, she brings a knowing, subversive wit to the character, and that makes her more than an ordinary bimbo who finds her voice.  Elle knows who she is, even though it takes her a while to figure it out what that means.  Witherspoon plays her as someone who gets the joke, and isn't afraid to do what needs to be done, but on her own terms.  That quality gives the film its edge.

Her co-stars are adequate, but they can't hold a candle to Witherspoon, who manages to keep the ever perky Elle likable and interesting for 90 minutes without becoming overbearing (considering her energy, that's an impressive achievement).  Luke Wilson, an actor I've never particularly liked, is surprisingly affable as the first person to take her seriously and give her support.  Matthew Davis shows comic timing and has some good reaction shots, but is about as charismatic as a wet noodle.  Selma Blair goes a little over-the-top as the bitchy Vivian, but she gets better when the script affords her the latitude (interesting note: although they play rivals in the film, the actresses are best friends in real life).

The film was directed by Robert Luketic, whose resume isn't very impressive (he was behind that stupid romantic-comedy "Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!," a film I can defend only on the grounds that it brought Josh Duhamel to the mainstream).  On a technical level, the film is rather bland, but Luketic understands his lead character, and pulls out all the stops to define who she is.  Her Chihuahua, named Bruiser (Moonie), and fluffy pencils are only the start.  Subtlety isn't among the film's strengths, and under the circumstances, that's a good thing.

My freshman roommate during my second semester of college claimed that every guy must have a "chick flick" for the sake of his girlfriend.  For those who believe the same, "Legally Blonde" is a solid choice.

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