Legally Blonde (USA, 2001)
Directed by Robert Luketic
Starring Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Selma Blair, Matthew Davis
Hollywood has always had a problem with films built around positive roles for women. Long before 'chick flicks' began to dominate the landscape of romantic filmmaking in the 1980s and 1990s, female film fans hankering after a leading lady of substance were all too often served up stereotypes and conventions instead, whether the woman in question was a submissive, victimised housewife or a dominant femme fatale. There were always exceptions, particularly in the so-called 'golden age' (Now, Voyager and All About Eve being very good examples), but women have too often been given the short shrift even whenn they also received top billing.
Just Friends or Sex and the City, it can seem tiresomely tricky to find such a film which will appease or satisfy both genders. Fortunately, both men and women can enjoy Legally Blonde with no shame whatsoever, since it is a surprisingly thoughtful and well-written piece which flatters its audience's intellect as much as pulling on its heartstrings.
Ella Enchanted. While their later work outside of adaptations has been declining in quality (The House Bunny and The Ugly Truth being equally embarrassing), on this occasion they get it spot on, putting a female character at the forefront and writing her like a believable, three-dimensional human being. Even before we warm to Reese Witherspoon in what was arguably a career-making role, we want the best for Elle and are interested in what happens to her.
National Lampoon's Animal House, I spoke about the film's counter-cultural subtext, with the boringly pro-establishment adult characters coming up against the free-thinking rebellion epitomised by Bluto and his Delta cohorts. Legally Blonde attempts the same kind of conflict between Elle's easygoing, borderline vapid Southern California lifestyle and the uptight snootiness of East Coast academia. Selma Blair - who is dealt a far better hand here than in Cruel Intentions - is very good at epitomising the absurdly rigid (and frigid) attitudes of that particular social and academic caste.
A Place in the Sun or the unusual camera angles of The Paradine Case. The final case scene may be a touch over-the-top, with Luketic spending a lot more time shooting gasping women than he needs to. But Witherspoon's believably nervous disposition keeps this more awkwardly natural than we have come to expect.
The Haunting [shudders], but it does look dated compared to more subtle offerings from the same period.
NEXT REVIEW: The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)