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Since its premiere in 2001, Legally Blonde has changed the nature of the comedic film. Reese Witherspoon’s portrayal of the brilliantly blonde Elle Woods catapulted her to international stardom, and this film remains a favorite among Witherspoon fans. Proving that looks do not matter as much as personal character, this beloved comedy has inspired many people (and not just women) to persevere in the face of adversity. Indeed, this light-hearted comedy continues to push people to succeed even though it has been nearly two decades since its original release.
As Elle Woods, Reese Witherspoon plays a spunky and independent sorority queen who is determined to win back the love of her life after her boyfriend, named Warner, dumped her. Even with embarrassment and over a week of moping around, Elle Woods decides to attend Harvard in order to (hopefully) reconnect with Warner. Unimpressed, Warner still thinks of Elle as a “dumb blonde.” That lack of love influences Elle to pursue her law degree at Harvard even though she’s a “fashion major” at CULA (which is a fictional university set in Los Angeles).
Instead of finding love, Elle ultimately finds herself, which is a type of self-love that is more powerful than any romantic relationship.
Part of the brilliance of Legally Blonde is that it has compelling themes in spite of its simple plot and PG-13 humor. Elle is a fascinating character because of her maturation throughout the film. At first, she was a homecoming queen and the president of her sorority, Delta Nu. As the film progresses, Elle dynamically changes into a woman with brains, courage, and know-how that directly contrasts the negative stereotypes associated with blonde women. The film has underlying tones of female empowerment and feminism as it features Elle’s transformation from a stereotypical blonde into a strong, independent woman.
She studies for the LSAT diligently (she raised her score from 143 to 179), transferred to Harvard, and ultimately establishes herself as a powerful lawyer. The advancements that Elle achieves is a bit silly and unrealistic, but the whole purpose of that ludicrous portrayal is to show that women can be just as strong as their male counterparts. Legally Blonde features the fact that women are much more than just superficial human beings obsessed with fashion, personal looks, and being by a man’s side, and reveals that they are capable of independent thought and the ability to achieve their dreams.
Elle’s gradual transformation into a strong, mature woman forms the entire plot of this film. In the beginning, she acts like a stereotypically fun-loving California girl. In fact, when she arrives at Harvard, a man on the campus shouts, “Hey, look! It’s Malibu Barbie!” Elle was like a fish out of water with her bright pink outfits that were the opposite of Harvard’s austere environment. Elle also had to deal with the rigorous coursework and tough professors at Harvard, especially Dr. Stromwell, played by Holland Taylor. As Elle struggles to adjust to the academic and social pressures presented at Harvard Law, though, she pushes herself to succeed with the exclamation, “I’ll show you how valuable Elle Woods can be!”
Her own personal motivation means that Elle does not need her ex-boyfriend, Warner, because she is perfectly capable of succeeding on her own.
Such ferocity means that Elle Woods has specific goals in mind, and uses hard work and determination to achieve her dreams. Her initial dream of marrying Warner might have disintegrated, but her evolution as a character suggests that perhaps that chasing after a guy may not have been the best goal to pursue in the first place.
The film portrays feminism as two opposing sides to the behavior of women. It showcases the “dumb blonde” stereotype and eventually exhibits the strong and independent woman figure, all of which are presented through Elle’s dynamic changes. Elle is a fascinating character because of the way she responds to the circumstances in her life and her profound transformation into the strong and accomplished woman at the film’s conclusion.
Legally Blonde is a very special comedic film because of the way it uses humor to address stereotypes and misogynistic behavior.
Quite a bit of the humor revolves around the stereotypical view of women in a male-dominated society. For example, there is a scene where Elle is dressed like a playboy bunny at a college party, which reveals the way that women are sexualized and objectified in society, as well as the disturbing fact that many women are indoctrinated to attract the attention of men through their sexual appeal. Another example includes the video essay that Elle submits to the Harvard admission office. In this obviously comedic take on the process, the men debating her acceptance comment about how Elle “appeared in a Ricky Martin Video” and how she could “add diversity” since the university never had a fashion major before. The scene itself is hilarious, but it uses comedic satire to comment on how some men really do objectify women.
The film also exaggerates the idea of being “girly” with Elle’s overt – and in many ways obsessive – love of the color pink. Her infatuation with the color is seen throughout the film, from the pink dresses that she wears, to her accessories, decorations, and even the pink, scented resume that she gives to Dr. Callahan (Victor Garber). While her love of pink is a running gag during the film, it’s also a way to convey the idea that no matter how “girly” you may be, that’s not a deterrent from achieving your goals. It’s also a reminder not to judge others based on their outward appearances – what they dress like, how they act, or whatever gender they may be. In the end, the film does an excellent job of melding the idea of being “girly” with success by having Elle win her court case while wearing a wonderful pink outfit.
It has been years since Legally Blonde premiered in 2001. Since then, it earned two Golden Globe nominations, spawned a sequel, and shot Reese Witherspoon into international stardom. Many people enjoy this film because it involves being comfortable with one’s own personal identity in spite of others’ opinions. The film also advocates feminism and inspires women to pursue their dreams, all while laughing along the way. Elle Woods is definitely a unique heroine because she is not just a damsel in distress. She is her own hero with class!
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