[15 November 2004]
The world can be forgiven for not expecting very much from Legally Blonde when it was released in 2001. A story about Elle Woods, a ditzy but determined sorority girl going to Harvard Law School in order to win back a condescending ex-boyfriend, its cleverness looks spent on its title, with precious little left to spread over the 90 minutes of the actual movie.
While formula follows formula like so many segments in a montage (Legally Blonde has those, too), the one thing that no one counted on was Reese Witherspoon’s performance as Elle. The bitchiness she exuded as Tracy Flick in 1999’s Election was tempered by that character’s thinly veiled insecurities, but injecting such a shrill tone into spoiled, shallow Elle would have been as toxic as the air in her hometown of Los Angeles. It’s a relief, then, that Witherspoon’s supple portrayal avoids such overkill. And it’s a minor miracle that she pulls anything worthwhile out of Legally Blonde and its reheated sequel, Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde.
Respective directors Robert Luketic and Charles Herman-Wurmfield both take time out from their films’ frequent dog-reaction shots to heap sympathy on Elle. But their decision to humanize her, while populating the supporting cast with Hollywood archetypes of trailer trash, blow-dried snobs, uptight academics, crusty law professors, and militant feminists is so morally questionable that any credit to be reaped herewith should all be handed over to Witherspoon.
Still, Legally Blonde did gangbusters at the box office and was cloned for the less-successful Legally Blonde 2, and now, the pair have been packaged together for the plush Legally Blonde: Platinum Collection. In addition to coming with a fluffy pink pen, notepad, word magnets, and “collectible outer box” (the best kind of outer box), the DVDs have been loaded to the gills with extras. The sequel edges out the original in quantity of extras, with deleted scenes, a gag reel, a LeAnn Rimes music video (not the best kind of music video), an interactive quiz, a featurette, and a behind-the-scenes photo gallery, none of which are matched by the original. That DVD’s list of features couldn’t be called a plethora, but a trivia track and two separate audio commentaries beat anything with a gag reel under the rules of DVD bonus feature poker.
But even if the double audio commentary route works for some of the more substantial DVDs on the market, it does not for Legally Blonde. The first audio commentary, featuring, among others, Witherspoon and Luketic, demonstrates the leading lady to be much more thoughtful and subdued than her typical roles might suggest, one of those pleasant little revelations that such a forum can provide. She is gracious to the cast and crew, and her story of how she overcame her own prejudices towards sorority girls by spending time with them to prepare for the movie helps explain how she was able to balance Elle’s humor and pathos so deftly. In short, she appeals to the sort of person who likes audio commentaries.
It’s worth asking who among that nerdly lot would actually fork over the dough for Platinum Collection. Fans of the movies who want both at the same time and find fuzzy writing utensils irresistible would, I daresay, not be the demographic to go tingly with joy to learn via trivia track bubble that a woman in a cameo role used to be on Moonlighting. Nor would they be likely to congregate on a Saturday night to listen to the second audio track, this one by the crew, blather on about the types of lenses used for the film. Audio tracks are one of the best gifts DVDs have to offer, but they work best when the movies they accompany are substantive.
But if some Legally Blonde aficionados are down with audio commentaries, they will likely find Legally Blonde 2‘s to be more their speed. Billed as “by the cast,” it actually only features the actresses who play Elle’s three faithful friends: Jennifer Coolidge, Jessica Cauffiel, and Alanna Ubach. Perhaps their limited screen time and status as non-celebrities frees them from calling everyone and everything involved with the movie “so great,” “so amazing,” or “so funny” (see Witherspoon and Luketic for just such a love fest). Instead, they sound like smarter, vastly funnier versions of their characters, and if none of their giggly chatter qualifies as profound, neither does anything in either of these two films.