Legally Blonde Review
Amy Heckerling’s superb film Clueless can be single-handedly credited with launching an entire series of imitations, pastiches, homages and straightforward rip-offs. A great deal of this was its original approach, in which it essentially adapted Austen’s Emma in a contemporary setting; such films as Cruel Intentions (Les Liaisons Dangereuses), Ten Things I Hate About You (The Taming of the Shrew) and even Bridget Jones’ Diary (which was an adaptation of itself as a book, which was in turn based on Pride and Prejudice, specifically the BBC adaptation starring Colin Firth, who played Darcy, and reprised the role in BJD…OK, that’s enough!) It therefore comes as something of a slight relief to see that Legally Blonde is a straightforward dumb comedy, with antecedents considerably less distinguished; unfortunately, this doesn’t make it any good.
The plot is an adaptation of such ‘classics’ as A Yank at Oxford, which was remade in the 1980s as Oxford Blues; however, the setting here is Harvard, as we follow Elle Woods (Witherspoon), as she follows her ex-boyfriend (Davis) to university there in an attempt to win him back, chihuahua in tow. Despite her ‘colourful’ taste in clothing (all of which is pink, apparently), she is actually deeply intelligent (hmmm….), a skill that will come in useful when she is required to defend a suspected murderer. Meanwhile, traditionalists bitch, nerds frown, and Elle has manicures. It’s as if feminism never happened.
In a sense, where does one start criticising a film like this? On a technical level, it’s accomplished enough, and the performances are (mostly) fine, albeit with the magnificent Selma Blair wasted in a dull, empty role, but there’s little that can be done with a script as aggressively stupid as the one here. Characterisation is never more than two-dimensional, and frequently less so, with such stereotypes as the dumb former boyfriend, the snobbish socialite, the lecherous professor and the decent potential boyfriend all present and correct. Dramatic events seem forced upon the narrative, rather than arising out of it; it’s as if the screenwriters had been given a list of ‘scenes a romantic comedy ought to have’, and ticked them off. Thus, we have ‘the scene where Elle gets into Harvard through her cheerful personality’, ‘the scene where Elle makes friends with somebody from a lower social class to show her essential decency’, ‘the scene where Elle’s crusty old lecturer reveals herself to have a heart of gold’…and so on, ad infinitum.
The disappointing thing is that there is a superb film to be made with a similar subject, and that film has indeed been made, with Witherspoon giving a far more subtle and modulated performance as Tracey Flick, student from hell. (It’s called Election, for anyone who likes decent cinema.) There are odd scenes here which raise a wan smile, such as a room full of Harvard professors drooling over Elle in a bikini in her ‘interview video’, but there’s really nothing here to get excited about, or even especially interested in. The film passes the time adequately enough, certainly, and it’s essentially too fluffy an exercise to really dislike, but it’s still yet another weak, conveyor-belt example of generic Hollywood product, without a truly original thought in its body. Even the dog isn’t given enough to do.
MGM have given the film a decent, although unspectacular, transfer; colours (especially the omnipresent pinks) are fine, there is little evidence of grain or print damage, and everything looks as it ought. However, it never looks really spectacular or stunning, and so merits little more than an adequate mark.
A rather dull 5.1 mix is provided, which showcases dialogue adequately, but has virtually no use of surrounds or sound effects, with the music sounding tinny and restrained. Not exactly a test disc, then.
MGM have done some spectacular special editions recently, such as Hannibal and their Brian de Palma titles; this is not one of them. As usual with recent, mainstream films directed by hacks, all the extras are promotional in nature, and thus of automatic disinterest to most people. The first commentary, with the producer, Witherspoon and the director is briefly amusing, but grating after a short time, and the second features so many participants as to be incomprehensible. Meanwhile, the other extras are standard stuff; some dull deleted scenes, a couple of ‘I play…’ featurettes, a music video and a trailer. The only vaguely interesting feature is a trivia track, which provides information on the film’s production; although paling in comparison to the superb tracks on New Line’s Infinifilm range and Fox’s Die Hard disc, it’s still an enjoyable enough addition.
A profoundly unremarkable film is released on an equally unremarkable disc. In years to come, when asked to define a mediocre film, people might well cite this one, provided, of course, that they managed to remember some aspect of the generic fluff that this is so immersed in. Not recommended, unless you’re female and aged between 15 and 20, in which case you might well love this; of course, those wishing to watch a genuinely witty and intelligent comedy of this type are advised to stick to Clueless or Election.