Spoilers for Legally Blonde ahead.
It’s not hard to see why Legally Blonde
(2001) drew in an army of proud defenders over 20 years ago. One can’t deny the fact that, even now, it remains a standard of feminist filmmaking, as Elle Woods’ relentless positivity and determination, along with Reese Witherspoon
’s nuanced handling of the character, helped the film blossom into an empowering portrayal of women defending women, undermining misogyny, and subverting tired stereotypes associated with themselves. That it was made during a time in which it seemed three-dimensional female characters were being cast aside in favor of objectified rom-com hotties willing to do anything for the sake of winning a man’s heart, and for male-centric blockbuster franchises like The Lord of the Rings
(2001-2003), is only another feather in its cap. No doubt it was refreshing to see a woman using her cunning intellect, rather than her body, to seize the day, while also utilizing the parts of her personality so many others would have written off as useless.
The box office success of the film, its sequel, and its musical adaptation are sure indicators that the film’s iconic stance for female empowerment rings especially true in the #MeToo era. However, Legally Blonde
was, if nothing else, a product of its time. What it achieves in its portrayal of women, it falls short in its portrayal of other marginalized groups. Because of the context of its release, these problems don’t immediately present themselves. However, viewing the film with a 2021 lens leaves it open to fairer criticisms due to greater acknowledgment of indecencies against racial and sexual minorities. This is almost as if to ask the question of what it would have to do differently in order to be fully acceptable in today’s film-viewing culture.
Elle Woods is an undeniable embodiment of endless hustle and self-actualization; upon being dumped by her ambitious boyfriend, Warner Huntington III (Matthew Davis
), on the grounds that she is not smart or determined enough for him, her decision to follow him to Harvard Law School in order to prove herself to him is quickly altered into one of proving to herself that she has it in her to accomplish great things once she fully commits to her passion for law. This she does while still holding onto the qualities that allow her to stand out, namely her femininity, her bubbly personality and sorority sister status, and her remarkable knowledge of the fashion world. At the time of its release, Legally Blonde