Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am
It’s been too long since the last courtroom comedy. This one might not reach the heights of the sublime “My Cousin Vinny`” but it comes pretty close.
Reese Witherspoon plays Elle Woods, an adorable Southern California sorority girl who is about to graduate with a major in fashion marketing. Her life seems as pink and perfect as her nails. Her biggest challenge is what to wear for what she thinks will be a marriage proposal from her beau, Warner Huntington III (Matthew Davis). But he has another idea. He has decided to break up with her before he leaves for Harvard Law School, because she is not smart enough to be of help to him in his political career. If he wants to be a Senator by age 30, he needs a wife who will look right in a campaign brochure. He tells her, “I need a Jackie, not a Marilyn.”
She decides that the only way to get him back is to join him at Harvard. So, she studies hard, aces the LSATs, and, with the help of a videotaped application essay, showing her explaining her qualifications as she soaks in a Jacuzzi, she is admitted.
Her new classmates are skeptical (one calls out, “Look! Malibu Barbie lives!”). They can’t see beyond her feather-topped pens and pink, scented resume. Worst of all, Warner is engaged to a girl who looks like an ad for “Town and Country” (the upper crust magazine, not the awful movie). They won’t let her study with them and they play a cruel joke on her. But Elle surprises them all — and even herself — by becoming a first class law student and a first class lawyer while staying true to herself. She ends up defending a murder suspect with whom she has a special rapport and conducting a cross-examination that would impress Perry Mason.
Reese Witherspoon is a treasure. She makes Elle completely believable as a delectable California girl with spirit and brains even she did not realize. Witherspoon and the art direction (even the credits have i’s dotted with hearts) keep things bubbly even when the script falters into predictability or vulgarity. Luke Wilson as a young lawyer and Holland Taylor as an acerbic professor add some nice moments. And it is fun to see Raquel Welch in a cameo as a wealthy divorcée.
Parents should know that the movie is rated PG-13 for about five to ten minutes of crude humor, including jokes about stereotypes of gays. There is brief bad language. Elle may be blonde and bubbly, but she is far from ditsy. She works hard, uses her very fine brain, and conducts herself with integrity and dignity. Elle gives another woman advice about how to show off her body favorably to get a man’s attention, but when her boss makes a pass at her, she makes it very clear that his behavior is unacceptable.
Families who see this movie should talk about why Elle did not have higher aspirations for herself, and the role her parents played in shaping the way she thought about her future. They might also want to talk about Elle’s choice to keep her client’s secret, even when it put her defense at risk, and about the mistakes people make when they judge other people based on appearances. What made Elle succeed when more experienced lawyers did not? What did the way Elle responded to the practical joke show us about her?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “My Cousin Vinny” (rated R for language).