I enjoy a romantic comedy now and again. When Legally Blonde came out in 2001 it was promoted as such. The opening scene seemed to set up a typical ditzy but beautiful protagonist, who will encounter comical difficulties parallel to “I Love Lucy” in the candy factory.
The first indication that Elle is not a typical ditzy blonde comes when a salesperson tries to take advantage of her because she assumes Elle is stupid. Elle puts the woman in her place without going on about it or retaliating (as in Pretty Woman when she rubs it into the ‘mean saleslady’s’ face that she’s purchased clothes in other stores). Elle has confidence in her knowledge and a strong sense of self.
After the initial blow of her boyfriend breaking up with her because she isn’t “serious enough” for him, Elle picks herself up and decides that she can and will become a “serious” law student. Her friends and parents are more puzzled than unsupportive when she announces her intentions to attend Harvard Law school.
Elle’s fortitude and strength of character are tested again and again throughout the movie and although she is a stranger in a strange land, she is able to reach out and find a friend in the familiar comfort of a local nail salon. Even in her grief Elle is not unkind when describing Vivian (who is engaged to Warren, the boy Elle was stuck on). In fact, Elle accepts Vivian’s tacked on invitation to her “costume” party with hope and enthusiasm. When she arrives to the party in a very revealing playboy bunny costume, she is met with disbelief and laughter by the other guests that are not in costume. Elle doesn’t go to pieces or “tell” on Vivian, she delves deeper into the party to talk to Warren and this is the part that I wince at: When he sees her he says, “You look like a felony.” and she smiles and says, “Thanks.”
Ugg … that is such a toxic, victim blaming, rape culture thing to say…which, okay, we are not supposed to like Warren, but it is cringy that Elle accepts it as a compliment. The final straw for Elle comes when Warren still doesn’t view Elle as smart enough to get the summer internship with their professor.
This is the point Elle really shows the audience what she’s made of. She takes herself seriously and works to out achieve Warren, not to curry his favor, but rather to prove to him (and herself) that she can achieve anything she puts her mind to.
The film is heavily heteronormative and I take issue with the thoughtless bi erasure that is used as ‘conclusive evidence’ that the accused murderer was not having an affair with her ‘pool boy’ because he had a boyfriend.
The notes at the end of the film were also needlessly heteronormative in their happily ever after assumptions. Elle could be happy simply left graduating at the top of her class. She didn’t need an engagement to complete her perfect day.