Saturday, May 10, 2014

28. Legally Blonde (2001)

Code-name: Bruiser

Director: Robert Luketic (other credits include "The Ugly Truth" and "21")
Type: comedy, court room, chick flick

Elle Woods- Reese Witherspoon
Warner- Matthew Davis
Vivian Kensington- Selma Blair
Emmett- Luke Wilson
Paulette- Jennifer Coolidge
Professor Cromwell- Holland Taylor
Professor Callahan- Victor Garber
Enid- Meredith Scott Lynn
Brooke Taylor Wyndam- Ali Larter
Chutney Wyndam- Linda Cardellini

Notable Golden Globe Nominations:
Best Picture (comedy/musical)
Best Actress (comedy-musical)- Reese Witherspoon
[...losing both awards to Nicole Kidman and "Moulin Rouge". As much as I love Reese in this movie, that's kinda hard to argue with :-P]


I don't remember if I saw this first or "Miss Congeniality," but in both cases, I was attracted to the pictures in question based on the premise.

I think I was intrigued by "Legally Blonde" because it was about a seemingly dumb blonde trying to make her way in law school to win back her boyfriend.
Back in those days, email was a roughly new thing in our house and among the FWD'd messages that circulated, there were ample dumb blonde jokes.

My personal favorite is the first one I heard:
A blonde, brunette & redhead are driving through the desert when their car breaks down. the brunette takes water, the redhead takes food and the blonde takes the car door. they ask each other why they brought the things they brought.
the blonde says "in case we get too hot, we can roll down the window"

Isn't it odd that when the "dumb blonde" stereotype is always skewed female?
Like only ditzy blonde girls can be perceived that way.

 So yeah... moving on...
I don't hate on blondes, by the way. Although I do believe they have more fun, so I can't help but wonder sometimes if I'd attract more attention from the opposite sex if I dyed my hair

I guess you could say that what makes this movie awesome to me is that Elle Woods winds up proving to everyone around her that she's actually a smart cookie and she finds herself a legit career path in something she's actually really good at.
A good example of "life is what happens when you're busy making other plans."

That, combined with Reese Witherspoon at her coolest and near-insane quotability [you wanna see insane, check out next week's entry on the countdown], made this an easy choice for my list of my favorite movies. A great popcorn movie that I can't help watching when it comes on TV.

First Impressions

Elle Woods is a CULA fashion major and president of her sorority, Delta Nu. After the movie opens with Hoku's one-hit wonder "Perfect Day" (ones of my favorite Radio Disney jams back in the day), we meet her as she prepares for a date with her boyfriend. She believes it's going to be a proposal when, in fact, it's the opposite.

Sure, Elle's reaction to the news is completely exaggerated, but every bit of it is so fun to watch :-P only the movies
And the cherry on top:

Warner: Get in the car
Elle: No...
Warner: you're gonna ruin your shoes
(a beat)
Elle: Okay...

spoken as a true Cosmo girl ;)

and I always get a kick out the aftermath where she's eating bons-bons and screaming at "General Hospital" (specifically, Jacob Young, who I know best as JR on "All My Children").

Here Comes the Plot

Somehow, Elle gets the "brilliant" idea that if she becomes a serious law student, Warner will be so impressed that he'll take her back in a heartbeat.
People think she's crazy, but she defies the odds, getting a 179 on her LSATs and making a helluva video admissions essay.

My favorite part:

Elle: I feel comfortable using legal jargon in everyday life.
[someone whistles at her]
Elle: I object.
...what always sells it for me is when she smiles back at the camera, super proud of herself.

The deliberation in the conference room over her application would never happen in real life, but nonetheless, there're too many gems in that scene to go into.
Among them were "faux fur panties" and her being in a Ricky Martin video... back in 2000-2001 when that actually meant something :-P

Needless to say, she does get into Harvard Law School and it goes without saying that her quest isn't as easy as she thought it'd be. After all, Harvard is notoriously difficult to get into for a reason.

I remember a moment where we were watching this for the first time. Elle gets picked on in her first class by Mrs. Cromwell, not knowing the answer because she wasn't aware they had an assignment. I'm flipping out, crying foul and my dad says that, apparently, that does actually happen.

I guess you gotta be on top of things in the Ivy League, but still... if that wasn't embarrassing enough, she gets showed up by the stuck up Vivian Kensington (my first encounter with Selma Blair who I expressed my admiration for in my review of "HellBoy II"). Archetypically, she's the opposite of Elle. She has the plain Jane look with the brown hair & brown eyes and an icy attitude to match. And it's on her word that Elle gets kicked out of class because she didn't know the answer.

Just wow...

She meets her future love interest (Luke Wilson in finest form and probably the only truly memorable role I'd seen him in...aside from the "Anchorman" cameo) who gives her hints about dealing with her other professors. Like how Mr. Callahan loves opinionated people and how Leventhal gets his test questions from footnotes.

Sadly, Elle's day doesn't get any better because the icy bitch known as Vivian happens to be Warner's new fiancée. Seems like he rebounded in record time.
So where does she go? For an emergency manicure.

So many people now know Jennifer Coolidge as the boisterous Polish woman in "2 Broke Girls," so it's easy to forget she got her start in roles like this... talk about going against type. Paulette the manicurist is the first friend Elle makes on the east coast and right now, we see an amazing friendship blossom. Paulette's good for pep talks ("What are you waiting for? Steal the bastard back!") and Elle becomes an angel to Paulette in more ways than one.

Part one is relatively easy. She uses her new lawyer jargon to talk Paulette's ex into giving back her bulldog, Rufus :-P
Elle may carry her Chihuahua Bruiser in her purse like an accessory, but she treats him really well. The only downside to him, if you can call it a downside, is that his presence gave the writers something to work with for the ill-advised sequel "Red, White and Blonde"...

Part two is trying to bring her together with the UPS guy, which brings on one of this movie's most iconic scenes: "The Bend & Snap"
It doesn't go perfectly, but in the end, it does succeed.

From Dumb Blonde to Legally Blonde

What's a good chick flick without a transformative montage?

Elle overhears Vivian talk about a party and gets extended an invitation... but left under the false pretense that it's a costume party.
I wonder if the people behind "Mean Girls" or wrote the source material "Queen Bees and Wannabes" took any inspiration from this... cuz Elle dresses as a playboy bunny. And any fan of that movie knows Halloween (or in this case, costume parties) is the one time you can dress like a total slut and nobody can say anything about it.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work here, but getting more tough love from Warner makes her transform herself into something who can compete with the other stuffy rich bookworms.
She gets herself an iMac laptop, starts actually reading and studying her books, all set to one of my favorite montage songs of all time: "Watch me shine" by Joanna Pacitti. Really gets the adrenaline pumping.

And in no time at all, Elle starts to make a helluv an impression on her classmates and her professors: particularly Mr. Callahan, who hosts an internship where pupils get to assist him on actual cases.
Despite everything that has changed for her, Elle still maintains her personality in one aspect: her "glowing" resume. One of the memorable bits from the trailer ;)

"It's pink..."
"And it's scented. I think it gives it a little something extra, don't you think?"

The Climatic Third Act

Sure, it is a little unrealistic that most of the people recruited for the internship are characters we've all come to know.
This includes Vivian, Warner, Enid (the lesbian women right's activist, former women studies' major) and Elle.
And Elle isn't just satisfied with that, but she gives Warner a great zinger in return.

"Oh Warner, do you remember when we spent those four amazing hours in the hot tub together after winter formal?... This is so much better than that..."

Not sure what it is about the scene immediately afterwards where Elle is with Paulette in the nail salon with snow falling outside... there's no dialogue and it's only 5-10 seconds long but it makes me warm and fuzzy every time.

It's become somewhat of a norm for me in recent years, but a lot of movies tend to drop the ball in the third act. Particularly superhero and action/adventure flicks where it gets overlong or bogged down with special effects ("Avengers" is the only exception I can think of right now where this doesn't happen). But they do it amazingly well here where the dialogue and story is as memorable as it is in the first act.

And it's at this point I need to place my SPOILER ALERT warning because unless you want the juiciest secrets to be given away, I'd stop it here.

The case at hand is The People vs. Brooke Wyndam. She's being charged with the murder of her husband, Hayworth Wyndam. While discussing motive, citing the immense age difference, Callahan notes that Brooke was rich on her own right from a work-out empire.

This rings a bell for Elle, realizing they're defending former Delta Nu alum Brooke Taylor who apparently can help you lose 3 pounds in one class. "Heroes" fans know Ali Larter from her duel roles of Nikki/Jessica Saunders (split personality possessing super strength) and Tracy Strauss (genetically modified twin sister of Nikki, can freeze water).

Her first thoughts and another great line: "Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don't shoot their husbands... they just don't."

Another friendship solidifies here as Elle and Brooke get to know each other throughout the process.. this includes learning her alibi and being sworn to secrecy about it.

Kinda hard to win a case if you can't declare your defendant's alibi (as it would tarnish her reputation)... but somehow Elle does manage it and we find out the actual killer.
It's definitely one of those super amazing, surprising moments that gets me excited every time, even though I know the end result.

Now for the-SPOILER-ridden portion.

While it evokes frustration at first, Elle's unwillingness to share the alibi wins Vivian's respect. They have a great moment discussing why Mr. Callahan never sends Warner to get him coffee and even dishing how Warner got wait-listed for Harvard.
Duh duh "his father had to make a call..."

It also gets the attention of Callahan who winds up doing something scandalous... he asks her to his office to discuss her future and he rubs her thigh.
Of course, it's very cliché that Vivian witnesses this through the crack in the door and their new friendship gets thrown out before the ink can dry.

My friend Pat made a comment on this once, saying how they kinda let that part of the storyline fall slack. Callahan never gets officially "outed" for hitting on Elle when he probably should have been.

To their credit, though, the misunderstanding doesn't last long (at most, 5 minutes of screen time). Thanks entirely to Luke Wilson, who tries to talk Elle out of quitting (she winds up getting convinced, oddly enough, by Mrs. Cromwell who happens to be at the nail salon when she's saying her goodbyes) and he also gives Vivian and Brooke the truth about why Elle quit.

With Luke Wilson's help, Elle takes charge of the defense with him supervising, something perfectly legal in Massachusetts.
As we saw in the early portions of the movie, if Elle is smart about one thing, it's fashion and hair care. Goes with the territory of being a Cosmo girl (who see Cosmopolitan magazine as their "Bible"). And that's all the knowledge she needs to discount the testimony of Enrique the pool boy and nail the daughter, Chutney, for the actual murder.

Around the time this movie came out, I think I did have more of a grasp on what meant to be gay... certainly more than I had pieced together in "Clueless"...
but either way, it's priceless when Luke Wilson follows Elle's lead and gets him to declare his sexuality in front of the entire courtroom.

His "story" until that point was that she and Brooke were having an affair and she shot Hayworth over that.
The rapid fire line of questioning ended with "And your boyfriend's name is?"
"Chuck," he responds without even pausing.

The courtroom goes nuts with laughter. He tries to correct himself: "I thought you said friend; Chuck is just a friend."
Chuck stands up in the back of the courtroom and scawls "You bitch!"

[After taking a few moments to get my own laugher out of the way]
Yeah, I'm aware that scene takes place BEFORE Elle takes charge of the defense, so sue me for going out of order a bit.... that pun wasn't intentional, I promise.

Even more jaw-dropping is how Elle pokes a crater-sized hole in Chutney's alibi.
In her list of activities the day of the murder, she puts together two things that don't make sense:
She says she got a perm that day, but her alibi was that she was in the shower when the gunshot went off.

I'm a bit of a tomboy so I didn't know this... when you get a perm, you are forbidden to wet your hair for 24 hours...
it's even more amazing how the murder actually came about.

Chutney did fire the murder weapon and kill her father, but it was accidental.
In an amazing performance from a young Linda Cardellini, she confesses her disdain of Brooke because they were the same age and further:

"I didn't mean to shoot him, I though it was YOU coming through the door!"

The Ultimate Payoff

Except for maybe Callahan's position at Harvard with the scandal never formally surfacing, all of the loose ends are tied up.

Vivian and Elle are officially besties.
Elle does succeed in getting Warner back... and she rejects him... and he gets rejected from all of the law firms he applied for. (IN YOUR FACE!!... and apparently this was a last minute add-in to satisfy the test audience... thank god for that)

And Luke Wilson and Elle wind up getting married...

Ill-Advised Side Ventures

which enlists an obligatory sequel that should never have been made because it was nowhere near as good as the original.
The two of them are getting married and Elle wants to invite Bruiser's mother to the wedding, finding out that she's involved in animal testing, so she begins a crusade against that at Washington D.C. If memory serves me, it wasn't nearly as bad as "Miss Congeniality 2" but it was still a disappointment.

And much like "Bring it on," it was turned into a Broadway musical... now that's one trend I really LOATHE... the money alone just seems like a stupid reason to turn well-known movies into musicals. Movies that aren't even musicals to begin with.
Most recently, "A Christmas Story," "Young Frankenstein" and "Rocky"...just why?

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