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‘Legally Blonde’ Oral History: From Raunchy Script to Feminist Classic

Along the way, adult zingers were edited out, Jennifer Coolidge struggled with the “bend and snap” and the ending was changed at least three times.

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Behind the scenes of “Legally Blonde” with Reese Witherspoon, left, the screenwriter Karen McCullah and the cast members Selma Blair and Meredith Scott Lynn.

By Ilana Kaplan

In 2001, Reese Witherspoon was already on her way to becoming a household name. But it would be the feminist masterpiece “Legally Blonde” that would cement her status as a Hollywood star.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Amanda Brown , “Legally Blonde” follows Elle Woods (Witherspoon) from ditsy, sorority socialite to first-year law student in an effort to win back her ex-boyfriend Warner (Matthew Davis). But what transpires next surprises everyone, including herself: The perky blonde with a tiny Chihuahua named Bruiser and a flair for pink discovers she is actually cut out for the courtroom.

It’s been 20 years since Elle, against all odds, got into Harvard Law, fended off a professor’s advances and came to the legal defense of a sorority alumna. She remains an emblem for challenging stereotypes and embracing female empowerment in the face of misogyny. By refuting the “dumb blonde” trope, Elle has become beloved for her sincerity and her insistence on unapologetically being herself.

In 2021, “Legally Blonde” is more relevant than ever. Years before the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, the Robert Luketic-directed comedy tackled workplace sexual misconduct and power dynamics. High-profile fans like Ariana Grande and Kim Kardashian (who each paid homage to it in videos) have stoked its legacy, as has a 2003 sequel ( and a third movie due next year ), as well as a Broadway adaptation .

In advance of the July 13 anniversary of its release, I recently spoke with the film’s stars (including Jennifer Coolidge, Jessica Cauffiel and Matthew Davis), screenwriters and others about creating the “bend and snap,” Elle’s Harvard video essay and the movie’s enduring legacy. Here are edited excerpts from our conversations.

The original script was much raunchier.

KIRSTEN SMITH (screenwriter) We were sent a fiction manuscript by Amanda Brown [by] a couple of different producers and Marc Platt was one of them. It immediately struck us as one of the greatest movie ideas ever, and we pitched it as “Clueless” meets “ The Paper Chase ,” one of those law school movies from the 1970s. I might have worn a lot of pink in the meeting.

JESSICA CAUFFIEL (Margot, one of Elle’s best friends) The first script was very raunchy, to be honest, in the vein of “American Pie.” What we know now as “Legally Blonde,” and what it began as are two completely different films. It transformed from nonstop zingers that were very adult in nature to this universal story of overcoming adversity by being oneself.

KAREN McCULLAH (screenwriter) There were some differences in the manuscript. It wasn’t a murder trial, and she ended up with a professor, so we made some changes. It was a matter of finessing the details and adding a few characters, like Paulette and her friendship.

CAUFFIEL Originally, there was a line when [her friend] Serena says, “What’s the one thing that always makes us feel better no matter what?” And I say, “Cunnilingus.” That was actually a line in the film. We thought when we went to the premiere that it was still that edgy, raunchy edit.

Reese Witherspoon was always the top pick for Elle, but other big names were thrown around.

SMITH [Reese] was the first person who read the script. It seemed like she was just right on the edge [of fame]. We didn’t send it to any other actors.

JOSEPH MIDDLETON (casting director) We did “ The Man in the Moon ” and “ A Far Off Place ” when she was really young, so when Marc was bringing up names, and it was Reese, I already believed so strongly in her.

McCULLAH Christina Applegate said something about how she had turned down [the role of Elle]. Marc once [mentioned] Britney Spears, and I was like, “No, that’s not a good idea.” I think she hosted “S.N.L.” the night before, and his kids were into her, so he threw her name out there.

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JENNIFER COOLIDGE (Paulette, Elle’s new friend and manicurist) I’ve heard rumors, and I don’t know if they’re true, that Courtney Love was up for [my] role. I heard Kathy Najimy was up for it.

SMITH I remember talk about getting Chloë Sevigny to play Vivian [a rival law student]. That didn’t work out, and we ended up with our queen Selma Blair. Selma and Reese were close, because they had done “Cruel Intentions” together. So their friendship is a great anchor for everything.

ALI LARTER (Brooke, a fitness instructor on trial for murder) They originally wanted me to come in for one of the sorority sisters. But when I read [the script], I just loved Brooke.

MIDDLETON I loved Paul Bettany for the Luke role, but he was British, and they felt like it needed to be a real American.

McCULLAH We always called [the love interest Emmett] “the Luke Wilson character” while we were writing it. They saw some other actors, and finally Joseph was like, “Maybe we should get Luke to play the Luke Wilson character.” I was like, “You think?”

There was a lot of field research done by the cast and crew: Smith and McCullah visited Stanford, while Witherspoon, Cauffiel and the costume designer Sophie de Rakoff spent time with a University of Southern California sorority .

SMITH We went to law school for a week right during orientation time. The scene where it’s a group of new students going around in a circle talking about it was from us eavesdropping on actual law students talking to each other for the first time.

McCULLAH The criminal law and constitutional law classes were the two that we sat in. Criminal Law was pretty interesting. Constitutional law, I remember crying a few times because I was so bored. But I did start writing some of the scenes for the scripts in that class, so some good came out of it.

SOPHIE dE RAKOFF (costume designer) [Reese and I] went to a sorority house for research while we were prepping. Everyone was wearing pink, so right then and there that gave us a throughline for the movie that became a huge part of the aesthetic and of Elle Woods’s personality and identity.

CAUFFIEL We [talked] an entire sorority into going out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant. Reese offered to buy them free margaritas all night. She leans over to me as the drinks are on the way and goes, “We’re not drinking anything. We’re drinking water.” We stayed sober as they got tanked, and we took notes.

Elle’s Harvard video essay was supposed to have a Judge Judy cameo.

McCULLAH There was an article somewhere that video applications became a common thing for a while [after the movie came out]. We just did it because it’s way more interesting to watch than hearing someone read an application essay.

ALANNA UBACH (Serena, one of Elle’s best friends) Judge Judy is supposed to be this amazing icon that Elle absolutely adores.

McCULLAH We wanted to shoot [Elle, Serena and Margot] chasing Judge Judy wherever she tapes her show and them being like, “Judge Judy! Judge Judy! Can we get an autograph?”

UBACH They cut that scene. They just couldn’t get Judge Judy on board. And I thought, “Reese, what if Ryan Phillippe played a really famous judge who had his own show, and we have him on billboards.” She said, “Alanna, no one’s going to believe that my husband’s a judge. Are you kidding me?”

The idea for the “bend and snap,” the maneuver Elle says has a “98 percent success rate of getting a man’s attention,” was conceived while the writers were drinking at a hotel bar.

SMITH Marc felt like we needed a big set piece in the second act, and we kept trying to think of how we could make it around Paulette and Elle. We were like, “Should the nail salon get robbed? Is there a mystery that happens?”

McCULLAH I was like, “What if it’s as simple as Elle teaches her a move to help her get the UPS guy.” Then Kirsten jumped off her bar stool and said, “Ooh, like this?” and she did the move. I forget which one of us said “the bend and snap,” but we probably both said it at the same time.

SMITH Karen is like, “Did someone teach you that?” I’m like, “No I made it up right now.” Then we went to Marc’s office, and I did the move. Toni Basil ended up becoming involved as a choreographer because once Robert read it, he got really excited to turn it into a full musical number. So, I found myself going to Toni’s studio and teaching her and a bunch of dancers the “step” I made up.

TONI BASIL (choreographer) I choreographed iconic things for David Bowie and Tina Turner. People interview me and they go, “You did the ‘bend and snap’?” It’s like, what, a one-and-a-half-minute number in the movie? But it was such an integral part.

SMITH Toni would call [part of the step] “the little chicken wings.” She was like, “More chicken wings, more chicken wings.” Jennifer does great chicken-wing hands. She puts the spin of hilarity and awkwardness on everything she does in the movie.

COOLIDGE Toni was incredibly frustrated with my ability to handle the choreography. Reese learned to “bend and snap” in about 10 minutes and I was the antithesis of that.

BASIL Jennifer changed it around. She pushed up her [breasts] instead of snapping because that’s what Jennifer does, because that was right for the character.

COOLIDGE One day I said to [Basil], “I’m not Elle, I’m the other character, Paulette, and I wouldn’t be really good at the ‘bend and snap.’ That’s not who I am.” And Toni said, “Jennifer, you need to learn this dance number and do your very best because even if you’re trying to do your very best you will still be the worst dancer.” It was a very sobering moment. But she was right.

Raquel Welch, playing the ex-wife of Brooke’s dead husband, wanted special lighting.

ANTHONY RICHMOND (cinematographer) She knew how she wanted to be lit. I had two sets of lights where I wanted them and one set where she wanted them, so she could look at herself in the mirror. I would dim one set down slowly and bring my own ones up so she never knew it was being changed.

DE RAKOFF She was obsessed with light. When I went through the fitting at her house, and we were talking about the courtroom scene, she was like, “I need to wear this hat.” It was a big, black straw hat; inside of that giant brim had a second layer of white straw that the light would bounce off so that she could get more bounce on her face. She basically created her own hat that had a built-in bounce board.

COOLIDGE All I know is she didn’t need her own lighting. She looks strangely youthful and sexy. Her face and her tiny hands, she made a deal with the devil. She looks like a billion bucks.

Some of the cast had real-life crushes during filming.

UBACH I discovered that [Matthew had a crush on Selma] during the trial scene. We could see that heart beating every time he was around her. He was so nervous, and I thought, “How could someone looking like that be as nervous as he is?”

MATTHEW DAVIS (Warner) I’ll adore her till the day I die. I will always cherish her taking care of me and looking after me because I was so damn green.

CAUFFIEL I think [Matthew] had a crush on everybody. At one point, he had a crush on Alanna.

COOLIDGE I had a crush on [Bruce Thomas, who played] my UPS man. But he was married and had a beautiful wife and children, so I had to shut that off. I didn’t have to act or get excited when he walked in — it was all true to life.

CAUFFIEL Everybody had a crush on Luke, but Luke was dating two supermodels at the time.

Test audiences didn’t like the original ending, so it was reshot to show Elle at her law school graduation.

CAUFFIEL The first ending was Elle and Vivian in Hawaii in beach chairs, drinking margaritas and holding hands. The insinuation was either they were best friends or they had gotten together romantically.

[Ubach remembers this as well but the screenwriters say they never wrote that ending.]

CAUFFIEL The second or third ending was a musical number on the courtroom steps, and as Elle came out, the judge, jury and everybody in the courtroom broke into song and dance. I’ve been waiting for somebody to leak that for 20 years.

McCULLAH We originally cut to a year later, Elle and Vivian were good friends, and Vivian’s now blond. They had started the Blond Legal Defense Club and were handing out fliers in the quad because that was the ending in Amanda’s manuscript.

SMITH One of the versions ended with Emmett and Elle kissing. We screened the movie two or three times, and every time people didn’t want to end it with a kiss. They thought it wasn’t a story about [Elle] getting a boyfriend, which was really cool to have people say that.

McCULLAH In the theater lobby of the test audience, Kirsten and I were like, “Why don’t we cut to graduation so we can do captions?” So we started writing that scene in the lobby with Marc.

SMITH Reese was shooting a movie in England at the time called “The Importance of Being Earnest,” so, [her] reshoot was done in England, and she was wearing a wig.

McCULLAH Luke had shaved his head for “The Royal Tenenbaums,” so he’s wearing a wig.

COOLIDGE It was so good, [Elle’s] speech at the end, Donald Trump had to steal from it .

The cast and crew say the film has lived on because it’s become more relatable over time.

SMITH It was the right feminist message and character to land when it did. It wears its desires on its sleeve: the contradiction [that] you can be a woman who’s fighting to be heard with a very clear point of view, who’s very strong and smart and also funny, fun and interested in different things, fashion and the law.

DAVIS I’m certainly biased, and this might sound hyperbolic, but I think “Legally Blonde” was one of the last great films in the sense that we shot it on 35 millimeter. It really captured the spirit, the grandeur and the magic of Hollywood. Reese is such a magnetic superstar, and it was a showpiece for her. I think we really captured lightning in a bottle.

LARTER You see this undeniable force, and that [Elle] never lets her self-doubt take her down. When you watch a movie like this, you believe in yourself a little bit more.

BASIL [The movie] is more relevant in a deeper way now than ever before. Women, equal pay and the #MeToo movement, so much has come around in the last 20 years that did not exist when these girls were creating this movie.

Fans constantly remind the cast and crew how the movie affected them.

COOLIDGE People come up to [Reese] and say, “I went to law school because of you.” People tell me that, too. I don’t think all these people could be lying: I think people really got inspired by that story.

DAVIS My friend set me up on a blind date once, and they were like, “You’ll love her, She’s cool. She’s a lawyer.” We had a beer, and we hit it off. I didn’t really talk too much about my story of being an actor. By the end of the night, we started making out. Right in the middle she pulls away and says, “I have to tell you something: ‘Legally Blonde’ is my favorite movie, and that’s why I became a lawyer. I wanted to tell you that all night long.”

McCULLAH When I was in Fiji, another guest told this honeymoon couple from Mexico who were lawyers that I had written “Legally Blonde.” The woman came running up to me, hugged me, and she’s like, “You’ve given me permission to wear pink every day of my life.” It was so cute.

COOLIDGE I can be in some environment that is not a “bend and snap” environment, walking through some dark subway tunnel, and someone comes up to me and does it. I could be on an airplane, seatbelted in, and they want me to get up and do it for them. Sometimes the requests are way more than you want to do during turbulence.

CAUFFIEL There are such hard-core “Legally Blonders” out there. I’ll be ordering a pastrami sandwich, and they’re like, “ Do you have your lucky scrunchie? ” I have my hat and gnarly mom clothes on, and they want to take pictures and talk about it. I love those moments because I see how something that we were also blessed to be a part of touches people’s lives.

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"Legally Blonde" is a featherweight comedy balanced between silliness and charm. It is impossible to dislike, although how much you like it may depend on your affection for Reese Witherspoon . She is so much the star of the movie that the other actors seem less like co-stars than like partners in an acting workshop, feeding her lines. They percolate, she bubbles.

Witherspoon plays Elle Woods, named perhaps for the magazine, perhaps because the word means "she" in French. Work on that pun a little more, and you could name the movie "The Vengeance of Elle," since Elle gets her revenge on the stuck-up snob who dumps her, and thus inspires a brilliant legal career.

We meet Elle as she basks in general approval as president of the Delta Nu house on a Los Angeles campus. She moves in a cloud of pink, dispensing advice on grooming, hair care and accessorizing; she has a perfect grade point average in her major, which is fashion. She thinks Warner Huntington III ( Matthew Davis ) plans to propose to her, but actually he wants to break up. He plans to be a senator by the time he's 30, he explains, and for that career path, "I need to marry a Jackie, not a Marilyn." Outraged, Elle determines to follow Warner to Harvard law school and shame him with her brilliance. And so she does, more or less, after being taken on as an intern by the famous Prof. Callahan ( Victor Garber ) and assigned to help him in the case of a famous weight-loss consultant ( Ali Larter ) accused of murdering her much older husband. The defense hinges on such matters as whether a Delta Nu would sleep with a man who wears a thong, and the chemistry of perms.

Witherspoon effortlessly animated this material with sunshine and quick wit. Despite the title and the implications in the ads, this is a movie about smart blonds, not dumb ones, and she is (I think) using her encyclopedic knowledge of fashion and grooming to disguise her penetrating intelligence. On the other hand, maybe not; maybe it's just second nature for her to win a client's confidence by visiting her in prison with Calvin Klein sheets, Clinique skin care products and the latest issue of Cosmo.

I smiled a lot during the movie, laughed a few times, was amused by the logic of the court case. "Legally Blonde" is not a great movie (not comparable with " Clueless ," which it obviously wants to remind us of, or Witherspoon's own wonderful " Election "). But Witherspoon is a star, and the movie doesn't overstay its welcome. It also contains at least one line I predict will enter the repertory: Elle Woods is asked, "A spa? Isn't that kind of like your mother ship?"

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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Film credits.

Legally Blonde movie poster

Legally Blonde (2001)

Rated PG-13 For Language and Sexual References

Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods

Victor Garber as Prof. Callahan

Matthew Davis as Warner

Luke Wilson as Emmett

Ali Larter as Brooke

Selma Blair as Vivian

Based On The Novel by

Directed by

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Legally Blonde is not so pretty in pink

This reboot is awed by what it should be teasing.

Blonde ambition: Courtney Bowman as Elle Woods

Legally Blonde Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, London NW1 ★★☆☆☆

The Father and the Assassin National Theatre (Olivier), London SE1 ★★★☆☆

Woollens on — the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre has opened for summer and has invited Lucy Moss, co-writer of the Henry VIII spoof Six, to direct Legally Blonde . This cheesy musical about a fashion-obsessed Californian girl going to snooty Harvard Law School is more than 20 years old. Does anyone nowadays balk at an unconventional young woman studying law? With places such as Cambridge University trashing the old elite, citadels of privilege have changed.

Moss, seeking new political relevance, has cast fuller-bodied, nonbinary actors and turned the whole thing into a relentlessly zingy assertion of minority pride. Fellow fatties of the world,

Megawatt smile … Courtney Bowman (centre) in Legally Blonde at Regent's Park Open Air theatre.

Legally Blonde review – joyously camp revamp is in the pink

Regent’s Park Open Air theatre, London An overhaul of the original’s gender politics, plenty of Gen-Z touchpoints and a big dollop of kitsch make this musical an irresistible cocktail

H ere comes another throwback to join the glut of nostalgic 90s and 00s films currently being resuscitated on stage. Based on the 2001 film starring Reese Witherspoon, its story hinges on the stereotype of the dumb blond, amid other cliches.

Laurence O’Keefe, Nell Benjamin and Heather Hach’s 2007 musical excised much of the film’s outmoded gender politics and casual homophobia, but Lucy Moss’s revival now gives the story a camp revamp to turn it into a musical for today.

The plot stays faithful to the original: fashion merchandising student Elle Woods (Courtney Bowman, who starred in Moss’s Six ), miraculously gets herself into Harvard to win back her boyfriend, Warner (Alistair Toovey, sufficiently smarmy), but ends up becoming a top-notch lawyer and falling for the far more upstanding Emmett (Michael Ahomka-Lindsay).

Bombshell performance … Michael Ahomka-Lindsay and Courtney Bowman.

The gender politics feel entirely overhauled, as does its central blond bombshell – previously played in London by Sheridan Smith . Where both she and Witherspoon were classic white blonds, Bowman’s blond-braided Elle is entirely different. There are few cookie-cutter blonds here in fact, and in a show that seems squarely aimed at teenagers, Elle captures a Gen-Z spirit of girl power. She spells her moral messages out loud and clear (“I believe in sisterhood”), but this heavy-handedness can’t be faulted in a musical that trades on its lack of subtlety.

Bowman gives an incredibly strong performance, although Nadine Higgin, as the salon worker, Paulette, nearly steals her thunder with her raunchy magnetism and powerful voice.

This is a tongue-in-cheek production that comes with a megawattage of kitsch and to some degree sends up the genre of the high-school musical. Characters are pancake flat, reaching beyond stereotype into cartoonishness: the Harvard clique is dressed in muted shades of browns and greens while Elle’s world is a blinding pink mono shimmer. Her handbag dog, Bruiser, is here a man-sized creature, played by Liam McEvoy in body sock, pink belt and pert tail who looks like a stray from the latest CGI Cats .

Campness dominates … Dominic Lamb and Nadine Higgin.

Campness dominates, with nasal American high-school accents, teenage squeals and deliberate overacting. Hach’s book does not feel nostalgic, its reference points updated with mentions of Timothée Chalamet and Too Hot to Handle . Ellen Kane’s choreography is fabulously playful and the ensemble is strong. There is talent throughout the cast, too, from Vanessa Fisher’s poise as Warner’s girlfriend, to Lauren Drew’s remarkable ability to jump rope and sing Whipped into Shape as the incarcerated fitness instructor Brooke.

Laura Hopkins’ two-tiered set is shaped like a big blond fringe and swiftly transforms, especially in the final scene when a courtroom wondrously morphs into a bathroom in seconds. The stage sometimes looks bare and the cast do not entirely fill it, while there are not enough big, show-stopping numbers. But the songs are humorous and original. Bend and Snap is a comic highlight while Gay or European pulls away from the queasy assumption in the film that gay men can instantly recognise a pair of last-season Prada shoes, the song incorporating a wide range of modern masculinities instead, and highlighting prejudices or lazy assumptions around them.

At times it is so pink and squealy that it feels like a summer pantomime. If it is outlandish and ridiculous, it is heady good fun too.

At Regents’s Park Open Air theatre until 2 July

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Elle’s a-poppin’ in ‘Legally Blonde,’ a musical that’s retro and rolls with it


Gerald Caesar is Emmett Forrest and Casey Shuler plays Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde” at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora. | Liz Lauren

I get it. You’re too smart for “Legally Blonde.” I mean, real talk: The story of a shopping-obsessed, blonde sorority sister who dresses like Pepto Bismol and follows some stupid guy all the way across the country because her only goal in life is to get him to marry her? “I Dream of Jeannie” reruns have more heft. Also, the titular lead is from Malibu. Like Barbie. And Mel Gibson.

‘Legally Blonde’ ★★★ When: Through Oct. 21 Where: Paramount Aurora, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora Tickets: $36-$39 Info: ParamountAurora.com Run time: 2 hours, 30 minutes, including one intermission

I am here to tell you not to judge a blonde by its cover. The saga of rich, white, pink-clad Elle Woods (Casey Shuler) and her unlikely foray into Harvard Law School actually has both substance and cheek. Directed to amusing impact by Trent Stork, it also embraces the retro-ridiculousness inherent to a plot about a designer-obsessed girl who wants nothing more in life than a boy. As you might expect, the plot shows Elle coming into the realization that she actually wants more than a boy. Despite early indications to the contrary, Elle is a master of far more than the perfect bend-and-snap.

The musical from composer-lyricists Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin and book writer Heather Hach starts with the sensibility of a gaggle of sorority sisters during rush week. It ends with the same, but instead of focusing on rush week, Delta Nu’s brightest star is poised to pass the bar and get a clerking gig with Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill or maybe somebody like Alan Dershowitz.

Let’s talk about the climactic courtroom scene, shall we? Here, Woods is part of a team of law students defending fitness queen Brooke Wyndham (Jenna Coker Jones, who has an extraordinary number involving neon jump ropes). The verdict for Brooke, accused of murdering her much-older husband, rests on whether her pool boy Nikos (Anthony Sullivan Jr.) is gay or European. There is an exegesis, in song, parsing the similarities between the two.

Casey Shuler (center) plays Elle Woods in the Paramount Theatre production of “Legally Blonde.” Also pictured: flanked by (front, left) Jacquelyne Jones, Kyrie Courter (right) Lucy Godinez, Sara Reinecke and Jenna Coker-Jones, with (back row, from left) L

Casey Shuler (center) plays Elle Woods in the Paramount Theatre production of “Legally Blonde.” Also pictured: flanked by (front, left) Jacquelyne Jones, Kyrie Courter (right) Lucy Godinez, Sara Reinecke and Jenna Coker-Jones, with (back row, from left) Leryn Turlington, Sierra Schnack, Lara Hayhurst, Maria Montero, Mallory Maedke and Brittany Coriaci. | Liz Lauren

Just when the court seems to have reached peak ridiculousness, Yando Lopez pops from the jury box, sporting a magnificent tenor, a tight, tiny floral romper and an Isadora Duncan scarf. It’s a “j’accuse” moment for the ages and if you are wearing a retainer you should be careful because you might spit it out on account of laughing so hard. The scene also involves one of the best death drops (thanks Anthony Sullivan Jr.!) you’ll see outside a lip sync finale at the Miss Continental Pageant.

Then there’s the Kyle, the UPS man (James Doherty), who gives new meaning to the phrase “package delivery.” Kyle is also an Irish step dancer. As the besotted Paulette (a fabulous Sophie Grimm) dreamily notes, Kyle could be a porn star. Their Irish Dance pas de deux manages to convey both Kyle’s Celtic heritage and his porn starishness, all while remaining wholesome enough for “Legally Blonde’s” target tween demographic.

The #MeToo movement and the advent of iPhones play big parts in Paramount Theatre’s updated take on “Legally Blonde” starring Casey Shuler as Elle Woods (center, with Michael Ehlers, and above in the oversized iPhone selfie with Tyler Lain as Warner Hunti

The #MeToo movement and the advent of iPhones play big parts in Paramount Theatre’s updated take on “Legally Blonde” starring Casey Shuler as Elle Woods (center, with Michael Ehlers, and above in the oversized iPhone selfie with Tyler Lain as Warner Huntington III.) | Liz Lauren

If none of that wins you over, there is not one but two really cute dogs in “Legally Blonde.” And not walk-on role dogs either. Dogs who are actual characters.

At the heart of the whole gaudy, noisy affair is Shuler’s Elle, who winningly shows that being as well dressed as Barbie and being smart are not mutually exclusive. Shuler has a soaring voice that powers yearning ballads (“Find My Way”) and bring-the-party songs (“Bend and Snap”) with equal verve. Her Greek chorus of sorority sisters (led by Kyrie Courter, Lucy Godinez and Sara Reinecke) are a hoot. And as the feckless boyfriend Warner Huntington III, Tyler Lain is like the unholy offspring of a lesser character from “Less than Zero.” He’s that guy who doesn’t just wear skinny jeans, he wears skinny capri jeans. Gross. (Also: nice work by costume designer Theresa Ham.)

Set designer Jeffrey D. Kmiec takes the action from Malibu to Harvard with a quartet of massive pillars that call to mind the Lincoln Memorial and ancient Greece. They make a fine background for Trent Stork’s choreography (with an assist from co-choreographer Megan Farley), which veers from girls-gone-wild to early Michael Flatley.

Like Elle Woods, “Legally Blonde” has no pretensions. And omigodyouguys, you shouldn’t either.

Catey Sullivan is a local freelance writer.


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‘Legally Blonde the Musical’ review

Legally Blonde, Open Air Theatre, 2022

Time Out says

Omigod you guys! ‘Six’ director Lucy Moss heads up this fever dream maximalist revival of the musical of the film

Directed by Lucy Moss – who did the honours for sleeper West End smash ‘Six’ – this revival of ‘Legally Blonde’ feels less like an update of the 2007 musical, more like a bizarre fever dream about it. 

Courtney Bowman is Elle Woods, a bottle blonde who wanders around a hallucinatory pink world full of pink-clad people, singing songs about pink things. She has a dog, Bruiser, played by a fully grown man (Liam McEvoy)  in a dog suit, who pulls haughty expressions and has a definite gimp thing going on. 

It’s weird, visually striking and basically pretty funny, but I found it very difficult to get a handle on it emotionally. At the beginning, Elle’s relationship with soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend Warner (Alistair Toovey) is perfunctory and glancing, like a half memory of their relationship in the film or original musical. Surrounded by her sassy singing chorus of imaginary gal pals, with her weird man-dog, Bowman’s Elle seems like a kook adrift in her own peculiar pink reality, cosplaying the role of the ditzy fashion marketing student who uses her business smarts to follow Warner to Harvard Law School, rather than being an active participant in her own story.

Never in a million years could this yassified, camped up, queered up take on ‘Legally Blonde’ have served as the original: it is emphatically A Version, and you’re liable to feel totally adrift if you’ve not at least seen the film.

I’m saying this as if it’s a bad thing. I’m going to be honest, I saw the film once and the musical once and thought they were both absolutely fine examples of the romcom genre. But if Moss’s pathologically knowing take sacrifices some of the emotional acuity of Reese Witherspoon’s performance, then I reckon we’ll probably live.

Still, after a first half so singularly unafraid to do its own thing that I mostly sat gawping in vague, is-this-really-happening? befuddlement, the second felt more exposing of the shortcomings of both director and the musical itself.

Here, Moss’s production settles down into something that more closely resembles the musical as you’d expect it, with the aggressive colour palette tamping down into earthy hues, and Bowman’s Elle much more invested in cracking the legal case set for her by her professor Callahan (Eugene McCoy) than she ever felt in her relationship with Wagner.

This makes it a lot easier to follow, but it feels that Moss doesn’t necessarily have much to say with her version, beyond ‘let’s make “Legally Blonde” even camper’. In particular, casting a Black actor into a WASPy role feels like a missed opportunity to subvert the archetype of the poor little rich girl, and to interrogate Elle’s obvious privilege. There is no obligation to do that, and clearly Bowman has been cast because she’s a terrific singer and a deeply likeable stage presence. But diversifying a comedy about a group of rich white people without really analysing the original story feels like a bit of a missed trick.

On the other hand, the original songs just aren’t particularly memorable: the likes of ‘Bend and Snap’ and ‘Gay or European?’ have an arch silliness that meshes well with Moss’s aesthetic. The whole thing is still absolutely crying out for a pop banger or three.

Lastly there’s the regrettable matter of Laura Hopkin’s set. I think it’s meant to look like Elle’s hair, which is fine (though I’m not sure her blondeness actually feels desperately central here – her extreme love of pink is clearly the main signifier of her whole ‘vibe’). Dangling ropes that look like cornrows are fine, but the considerable areas of the set adorned with what look like photorealist images of hair just look… horrible, like something knocked up on the cheap in Snappy Snaps.

If you’ve always been desperate to see ‘Legally Blonde’ but more so, then you probably already have tickets, and are unlikely to be disappointed. A lot of very excitable pink-wearing people in the audience were clearly living their best lives. For me, it hovered somewhere between bemusing excess and a disappointingly unadventurous attempt to modernise a musical and story that feels ripe for a more robust interrogation. Still, it’s worth a look, for the gimp man-dog alone.

Andrzej Lukowski

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‘legally blonde’: thr’s 2001 review.

On July 13, 2001, MGM brought a breezy comedy to moviegoers nationwide.

By Kirk Honeycutt

Kirk Honeycutt

'Legally Blonde' Review: Movie (2001)

On July 13, 2001, MGM brought a breezy comedy to moviegoers nationwide, Legally Blonde. The film went on to gross more than $140 million globally and spawn a sequel. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below: 

The good news is that there aren’t nearly as many dumb-blonde jokes in Legally Blonde as one might expect. The bad news is there aren’t too many jokes period.

In another era, this film would have been called “Tammy Goes to Law School,” and the role of Elle Woods, well-played here by Reese Witherspoon, would certainly have gone to Debbie Reynolds or Sandra Dee. For this is a mild, somewhat sugary romantic comedy about a young woman with a perky personality who chases the man of her dreams to Harvard Law School only to discover she prefers the law to her knucklehead ex-boyfriend.

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Predictable, cutesy and surprisingly short on genuine humor, Legally Blonde  gets by thanks to the magnetic presence of Witherspoon. The MGM pic should open well, but whether this Blonde has the shapely legs to sustain a long theatrical run in the heat of summer is doubtful. The film could have a modest success in video and cable markets.

The perfunctory, implausible setup has Elle, a postfeminist girl with only marriage on her mind after graduation from a Los Angeles university, jilted by longtime beau Warner Harrington III (Matthew Davis). Determined to get elected to the U.S. Senate by age 30, this rich kid on his way to Harvard Law School can’t afford the burden of a blond airhead for a wife.

Only Elle, while blond, is no airhead . The movie swiftly establishes her as a smart woman but one whose priorities place clothing and nail and hair design far above, say, education or world events. (When a classmate claims to have spent the last two years in Bosnia, Elle remarks that that would explain her hairdo.)

Against all logic, Elle immediately gets accepted into Harvard Law School, too — boy, that was easy. This sets up a cultural clash as Elle’s signature pink — worn by her and her Chihuahua, Moonie — fails to jibe with the navy-blue blazer world of law school. Clothing certainly means everything in this movie as the filmmakers display a strong bias for blue-collar duds and exuberant flash over upper-class sartorial conservatism.

Eager to get the movie out of classrooms and libraries, the second half plunges into an absurd storyline that has these first-year law students ditch their books to help a professor defend a woman charged with murder.

Young Australian filmmaker Robert Luketic , directing his first feature and perhaps a little out of his depth, plays much of the comedy too broadly. But this undoubtedly springs from desperation as Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith’s screenplay lacks any real humor.

In Sandra Dee’s time, Hollywood could portray innocence with a charming straightforwardness. Nowadays, the strain shows. Unwilling to give their heroine the bad habits and social faux pas of the titular character in Bridget Jones’s Diary  — to which this movie bears a passing resemblance — the filmmakers are baffled how to wring humor out of Elle’s milk-and-cookies personality. Instead they take tepid potshots at characters’ social attitudes, preppy snobbery, spineless behavior and male chauvinism.

Several actors do register despite the superficial characterizations in the writing. Selma Blair has a strong presence as Elle’s rival for Warner’s affections, coming on as a bitch initially, then softening into feminine solidarity with the heroine.

Luke Wilson makes an easygoing love interest for Elle, while Victor Garber and Holland Taylor command their classrooms as law professors. Jennifer Coolidge has her moments in the cliche of a “ blousy ” beautician desperate for male companionship.

Technical credits are pro, especially in costume and set design. It would appear, though, that virtually none of the movie, other than a few overhead shots, was filmed anywhere near Harvard’s campus. — Kirk Honeycutt

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Legally Blonde Reviews

times review legally blonde

Legally Blonde is chock-full of instantly iconic lines, but I’ve always adored the scathing specificity of, “Don’t stomp your little last season Prada shoes at me, honey!”

Full Review | Sep 27, 2022

If her dazzling turns in Election, Freeway, and The Man in the Moon weren’t enough to convince you that Reese Witherspoon is one of her generation’s greatest actresses, Legally Blonde will close the deal.

Full Review | Apr 5, 2022

Led by Reese Witherspoon (in a star making turn), Legally Blonde is a smart and fun adaptation that improves on its source material in every way. Shout-out to the supporting cast, especially Coolidge, Larter and Blair, for bringing the heart and laughs.

Full Review | Original Score: 4/5 | Mar 25, 2022

Unusually for fare of this type, the end results are never once annoying.

Full Review | Original Score: 3/5 | Sep 11, 2020

A crowd-pleasing, girl's own fantasia of self-empowerment.

Full Review | Original Score: 3/5 | Aug 10, 2020

Likable. Enjoyable. Funny. Entertaining. You'll smile. You'll laugh. You'll even root for the blonde. And yes, it is acceptable to put your resume on pink paper.

Full Review | Nov 14, 2019

Reese Witherspoon is just so charming in it.

Full Review | Jun 27, 2019

A cut (and style) above other comedies of this ilk, Legally Blonde mainly succeeds because of Witherspoon's winning performance.

Full Review | Original Score: 3/4 | Mar 1, 2019

Reese Witherspoon is the single-best thing about Legally Blonde, a comedy that has no business being as fun and entertaining as it is.

Full Review | Original Score: 4/5 | Feb 26, 2019

The movie is a lot like 1995's Clueless, which was also totally cute, in that it has a brain and a heart. And like its heroine, it's a lot smarter than it looks.

Full Review | Oct 25, 2018

Slick, sexy, and charming, this romantic comedy should catapult the gifted Reese Witherspoon to major movie stardom

Full Review | Original Score: B | Jun 2, 2011

Bombshell discovers her brainy side in fun romp for teens+.

Full Review | Original Score: 4/5 | Dec 25, 2010

"Legally Blonde" is a career misstep for a talented actress capable of creating much more complex characters.

Full Review | Original Score: C | Aug 18, 2009

Full Review | Original Score: 3/5 | Aug 7, 2008

Full Review | Original Score: 2.5/4 | Dec 27, 2007

Legally Blonde is a broad, glossy teen comedy that shows off Witherspoon's wicked comic talents. Silly? You bet. But if this Popsicle of a movie melts long before it's over, the first half has more good laughs than all of "Sweethearts."

Full Review | Nov 1, 2007

The ultimate cotton candy movie -- it's sweet, it's fluffy, and, boy, is it pink.

Full Review | Original Score: 3/4 | Sep 4, 2006

Full Review | Original Score: 3/4 | Sep 30, 2005

The best empowerment movie for teenage girls to come along in ages.

Full Review | Nov 20, 2003

An agreeable trifle, a fairy-tale piece of fluff that is nevertheless fun and funny.

Full Review | Original Score: 3/5 | Aug 17, 2003

Legally Blonde

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WAY too mature for the current 12yo rating

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"some" sexual references hmmm..., great movie, but they missed a lot in the overview, you need to watch., fun, upbeat movie, funny, great film, one of the best movies ever, watchable with younger kids, if you don't mind doing some explaining.

times review legally blonde

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Legally Blonde

"Legally Blonde" is a comedy that argues that towheads not only have more fun but can be just as smart as anyone else if they feel like it. This style-conscious romp with one or two ideas in its well-manicured head gets a major boost from Reese Witherspoon's dazzling star turn as an L.A. Barbie who, for the wrong reasons, sets out to conquer Harvard Law School.

By Todd McCarthy

Todd McCarthy

Reese Witherspoon

The Blonde Anti-Defamation League has found its standard bearer in “ Legally Blonde ,” a comedy that argues that towheads not only have more fun but can be just as smart as anyone else if they feel like it. This style-conscious romp with one or two ideas in its well-manicured head gets a major boost from Reese Witherspoon’s dazzling star turn as an L.A. Barbie who, for the wrong reasons, sets out to conquer Harvard Law School. But the mildly engaging silliness of its premise is never transformed into something more substantial, and the attempt at a fine-tuned “Clueless”-like tone is only sputteringly achieved. Still, the imagination-catching premise and inevitable raves for the leading lady should put this somewhere in the middle of summer B.O. performers.

Beaming star wattage out of every pore, not to mention her hair, Witherspoon once again proves herself a comedienne worthy of comparison to such golden era greats as Carole Lombard and Ginger Rogers. Seemingly at the center of every frame of the picture, the actress possesses an effervescence that floods everyone and everything in its proximity and here dignifies and elevates material that proves more appealing conceptually than it generally manages to be in the playing. Like her character, who will let nothing, least of all her own limitations, stand in her way, Witherspoon isn’t about to let spotty dialogue and some directorial clumsiness prevent her from showing what she’s made of.

Perfectly groomed, color coordinated to the max in varying shades of pink, and usually seen in the company of her Chihuahua, Witherspoon’s Elle Woods rules the sorority roost on the CULA campus; she may be a ditz, but no one can say that this knockout — who’s proud to mention that she grew up across the street from Aaron Spelling’s house — isn’t happy or hasn’t made the most of her life thus far.

Grad school definitely isn’t in the cards for this fashion merchandising major, but her expectation of becoming the bejeweled wife of preppie b.f. Warner (Matthew Davis) are dashed when the political aspirant breaks up with her. “If I’m going to be a senator, I need to marry a Jackie, not a Marilyn,” he explains to the flabbergasted Elle. After a good sulk, Elle decides that the only way to win Warner back is to prove herself worthy by getting into Harvard Law herself and following him there in the fall.

Acing her exams and benefiting from the prospect of the diversity she will inject into the refined atmosphere of Cambridge, Elle arrives in her Porsche followed by a moving van and immediately becomes the unwitting clown in a class full of serious, snooty and often pretentious future American elite. Dressed to the nines and armed with a pink fur-covered cell phone, she’s ridiculed by her imposing professors, but this is nothing compared to her humiliation upon learning that Warner has gotten back together with a former steady, Vivian (Selma Blair), a nose-in-the-air blue-blood who cruelly misinforms Elle that an upcoming class bash is a costume party; Elle shows up in a Playboy bunny outfit.

Finding herself a social outcast for the first time in her life, Elle just about throws in the towel, but shortly decides to get serious instead. She begins turning the corner in class, befriends a lower-class manicurist (Jennifer Coolidge) whom she tries to help with her love life, and is surprisingly picked by one of her teachers, Professor Callahan (Victor Garber), to become part of the team of interns on a high-profile murder case.

Since the discovery and trial process is obviously designed to provide the platform for Elle to transform herself from bimbo to prospective professional, the picture necessarily becomes more sober-sided in the final act. But the means by which Elle triumphs remain entirely tied to her SoCal preoccupation with looks and fashion, and are therefore far too coincidental and flimsy to prove anything about her real abilities. A little postscript pushes things even further into fairy tale absurdity, although it must be acknowledged that everything that Elle does and accomplishes remains entirely in character; this girl will not be denied.

Based on a book by Amanda Brown, script by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith (“10 Things I Hate About You”) is nicely structured and populated by some good characters, but could have used a little dialogue polish to elevate the proceedings to a higher comic realm. First-time director Robert Luketic, an Aussie who has made shorts that have attracted prizes and notice on the fest circuit, emphasizes the obvious more often than not, which similarly has the effect of dumbing down the humor from what it might have been.

However, Luketic knew he had a thoroughbred he could count on to bring his film successfully to the finish line and he’s given her free rein. Witherspoon, in turn, has taken full advantage of it; she’s wonderful and winning as a young lady who has one life all figured out for herself, then is fully capable of meeting the challenge of succeeding in a new one. At this point, Witherspoon is one of a very small number of screen actors one wants to see in anything she does.

Davis as the status-conscious Warner and Luke Wilson as an older law student who is one of Elle’s few allies both look good but do little else. But Blair, who appeared with Witherspoon in “Cruel Intentions,” blossoms nicely from rich bitch to Elle’s admiring friend, and Garber and Holland Taylor have some strong moments as law school profs.

Deficient in actual Harvard atmosphere, pic otherwise boasts decent production values, particularly in the area of Elle’s all-important wardrobe, which has been tended to with loving attention by costume designer Sophie de Rakoff Carbonell.

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