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Legally Blonde (2001)


One of the grandkids brought this in for me. Energy-Em, as old Jack likes to think of her, is into her twenties and still a fizzing, popping bowl of modern thought, modern insights and modern not-putting-up-with-Grandpa’s-offensive-remarks. Not that she jumps to easy conclusions. Trust me, she was right to comment after twenty minutes on changing a stoma bag. Unforgivably, there was mime.

Equally unforgivable, of course, is pat presentations of older folk in movies for the young. And this film – which, to be clear, old Jack here properly enjoyed – is guilty. But it’s not about the frame around the lives of young women; it’s about their empowerment and rights to be smart as buttons, leaders of their kind and others, whilst looking blisteringly great. You can and must – if you choose – be Legally Blonde.

Energy-Em, fresh from a sugar rush and empowering pedicure, bounced in with “Yo, Pops! Loves ya!”, a disarming hug, and the pinkest iPad I’d ever seen. Family, medical and boy notes swapped, we put aside the domestic for Reese Witherspoon bounding innocently through a college that appeared to have been directed by a small council of fourteen year old boys. I was nervous, to be honest. Tight clothes and the curviness they reveal was balanced with an immediate broken heart: Witherspoon’s utterly likeable beautiful-rich-and-innocent Elle Woods is dumped by her aspirant rich-man’s-son boyfriend at the moment of an expected proposal.

Cruel. And – INCITING INCIDENT!!! Not subtle, but…

I glanced across at Em and must have frowned. “It’s about empowerment,” she declared, just as Witherspoon determines to get back her boyfriend by proving she is also clever and joining him at Law School.

I once had to judge a tighty-whitey contest for Lambda Kappa Pi. Trust me, I can handle anything.

The clash of cultures and rationales rather leapt out at me. How can this be about empowerment when the chief motivation is to be the wife of an arsehole? Ultimately, the story deals with the arsehole thing, but never quite skips past Witherspoon’s intent to marry the man. Innocent indeed.

But it’s great fun. Elle smashes the intellectual side and wakes up the deciding Board with some glamour and joy. Of course, once there, she slams into the snotty boys and earnest, entitled girls like a lamb in an abattoir. Fortunately, this lamb brings all the personality, wits and energy of my grand-daughter.

“I worked so hard to get into law school. I blew off Greek week to study for the LSATs. I even hired a Coppola to direct my admissions video.”

Snarked at by her ex-boyfriend’s new fiancée (Selma Blair as the will-she won’t-she be humanised Vivian Kensington…and it’s honestly in doubt), Elle gets to studying…

And – screech – so arrives Victor Garber as professor, lawyer and…the moment that betrayed us oldsters – creep. He needs to drive the plot and manage the defence of one of Elle’s heroes, Ali Larter as Brooke Windham, a famous-to-the-young fitness guide and potential murderer. Who also gets one of the best lines in a film full of them. If for nothing else, go chase the dialogue…

And then Garber gets creepy.


It’s a Scooby-Doo, you pesky kids, moment. Why… to tell the stories of perceived minorities… do so many storytellers caricature perceived majorities? In its defence, there is a far kinder sub-plot about the young helping the middle-aged keep their “bend and snap” sexy…

Anyway, Elle shows her mettle in a mix of glamour knowledge and legal knowledge, takes all the risks you’d want, finds a beau and herself. Mostly herself – the smart woman, the lawyer in waiting, the sexy soul. The beau (Luke Wilson as Luke Wilson) is an annoyance. Come this bit of the film, I wanted Elle to win without the marriage thing undercutting her apotheosis. As it were. But what do I know, I’m an old man, laughing along with my grand-daughter at jokes that killed our eye contact but bonded us. At the end of the film, I understood who she wants herself to be. And that – along with how Reese Witherspoon shines – is perfect.

Try Legally Blonde with your grand-daughter. It’s funny, pointed, ever so slightly dated, but the sparkles will cheer you both.

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