Film Reviews: Wednesday, July 2, 2003
Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde\r\nStarring Reese Witherspoon. Directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld. Written by Kate Kondell. Rated PG-13.\r\n
That Touch of Pink

Elle Woods and other dumb blondes, considered as cultural artifact.


phenomenon has taken shape in Hollywood in the last 10 years or so. I call it Dumb Blonde Comedies, hereafter referred to as DBCs. Amy Heckerling’s Clueless started the whole thing in 1995 and remains the gold standard. Since then, we’ve had David Mirkin’s Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, Andrew Fleming’s Dick, and the two Legally Blonde films. These movies all have cute blonde heroines who sail through life and achieve remarkable things despite a certain lack of self-awareness.

Now, comic fables about simple-minded characters (mostly men) are part of an ancient tradition — practically every culture in the world has them — and dumb blonde stereotypes have been around for decades. However, DBCs are a recent development, brought about by the mellowing of the feminist movement and the rise of female filmmakers. (Some of these movies are directed by men, but all of them have at least one woman credited as screenwriter.) The heroines of DBCs succeed because they’re smarter than other people realize, or because their fundamental decency gives them strength and attracts people who are willing to help them, or because they’re incredibly lucky. (For sinister variations on the theme, see To Die For and Chicago.) They have little or no talent for introspection, which is part of their charm — not for them the paralyzing self-analysis of Bridget Jones or Ally McBeal. They’re willful without being needy, unless we’re talking about a need for lip gloss or eye shadow. Though life sometimes gets them down, the travails of this world can neither dampen their bouncy spirit nor cure them of their obsession with fashion trends.

The original Legally Blonde wasn’t really on the same level with the other DBCs. It was a hit because audiences recognized in Reese Witherspoon’s Elle Woods a great character who deserved a better film, a Dumb Blonde who could buckle down and hit the law books when she wanted to. In the sequel, Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde, Elle discovers that one of her firm’s clients is a cosmetics company that tests products on animals, including the mother of her beloved Chihuahua, Bruiser. Fired from the firm for trying to pressure the client to stop the testing, she resolves to go to Congress to change the law. It’s a neat idea to set the clotheshorse Elle loose in Washington, a town that’s famously super-serious and sartorially challenged. (Maureen Dowd recently said in The New York Times that in Washington, a man wearing an Armani suit is automatically presumed to be gay.) The town doesn’t roll over for her either, at least not right away, as her proposed legislation runs into red tape, horse-trading, and general cynicism.

She wins the day a bit too easily, but that isn’t the main problem with Legally Blonde 2. Too much of the comedy falls flat here, like the scene in which she triumphs at a committee meeting through a sentimental appeal that brings several legislators to tears. Bathos tends to work on lawmakers only when it’s accompanied by grandstanding and a really hard sell. This isn’t Elle’s style, so her victory is unconvincing. There are some genuinely funny bits, such as Bruiser’s torrid homosexual affair with a representative’s rottweiler (what would Sen. Rick Santorum say?), and Elle’s sorority sisters (Jessica Cauffiel and Alanna Ubach) running a cheerleading routine with some congressional interns inside the Capitol. The latter piece manages to tweak Washington stuffiness in the right way; the movie needed more like it.

It also needed a narrower focus, much like the original. Even with Luke Wilson as her boyfriend relegated to a glorified cameo, Elle interacts with so many people in this film, you’d think she was the president. She has to split time with the congresswoman who hires her (Sally Field), the chief of staff (Regina King) who’s frequently at odds with her, the other staffers who are won over by her, the two lawmakers whom she lobbies (Judith Ivey and Bruce McGill), and her original client/best friend (Jennifer Coolidge). No wonder Witherspoon is spread too thin; she remains sharp as Elle, but she never settles into a groove with any of these supporting players. The casting of Bob Newhart as a hotel doorman who has acquired a Washington insider’s wisdom from his post is an inspired touch — his shuffling, soft-spoken delivery is a great contrast with Witherspoon. The movie should have made him Elle’s sidekick.

For all its flaws, the sequel stays true to the character of Elle Woods, and that’s how it retains its essential charm. One unsuspected feature of the DBCs is the way their heroines’ best impulses often lead them into social activism. Elle ends up giving a speech on the importance of political involvement (and in true Elle fashion, uses a metaphor about her hair). You can’t help but think that the real-life Washington would be a more serious place if it were home to a few more Dumb Blondes.

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