Legally Blonde is undemanding, fairytale cinematic fluff about a Californian sorority queen who enrols in Harvard Law School to win back her boyfriend. What saves it from inconsequence is Reese Witherspoon's lead performance.Witherspoon proved herself a gifted comedian with Election, in which she played an ambitious aspirant for school president named Tracy Flick. Elle Woods in Legally Blonde has something of Flick's external pluck and determination, but Witherspoon's careful not to repeat herself. Beneath the perky exterior, Flick was ruthless and hard as steel. Woods is all soft centre - shy, uncertain and lacking in resolve.
This role plays to a Saturday night audience, who want to see Woods empower herself. At Harvard, her pink ensembles and Californian manners mark her an immediate outsider from the ranks of the other law students, who espouse non-conformity but dress alike in blacks and greys. Woods is an unlikely rebel - hardly fighting from a position of disadvantage, the only barrier to her success is an initial unwillingness to think for herself.
First-time Australian director Robert Luketic struggles to keep Legally Blonde vibrant and snappy, but is hindered by the draggy screenplay of Kirsten Smith and Karen McCullah Lutz (working from Amanda Brown's novel). Witherspoon quickly puts an audience in a mood for comedy, but there aren't nearly enough one-liners and gags to keep you distracted. I laughed almost in relief whenever a funny line or situation presented itself (Witherspoon's canny and hilarious performance is shown to best effect during Woods' enrolment video for Harvard, which is a classic).
The story's a little like Clueless meets My Cousin Vinny. The latter wasn't a great film, but the trial scenes with Marisa Tomei were a hit because you didn't expect this wisecracking Bronx girl to be a technical authority on automotive mechanics. There's a lot less surprise in seeing Woods score points in court from her knowledge of hair care. Reality goes completely out the window during the trial scenes, which is a shame because there are moments of truth in the depiction of the cliquey law students and the institutionalised sexism in male-dominated legal practice (where a female student is automatically assigned to make the coffee).Luke Wilson, Selma Blair and Jennifer Coolidge (Best in Show) come closest to registering in the support cast, but the other actors are mostly delegated to the background by Witherspoon's bravura performance and bright costumes (the colour design of the film isn't subtle, but it's appropriate). Audiences undeservedly overlooked Election. Legally Blonde isn't nearly as smart or funny, but it's worthwhile as a showcase for Witherspoon's talent.