Legally Blonde is a 2001 American comedy film based on Amanda Brown's novel of the same name. It was directed by Robert Luketic, scripted by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, and stars Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Selma Blair, Matthew Davis, Victor Garber, and Jennifer Coolidge. The film tells the story of Elle Woods, a sorority girl who attempts to win back her ex-boyfriend by getting a Juris Doctor degree. The title is a pun on the term "legally blind".
The film was released on July 13, 2001, and received positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the critics' consensus states "though the material is predictable and formulaic, Reese Witherspoon's funny, nuanced performance makes this movie better than it would have been otherwise". It was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture: Musical or Comedy and ranked 29th on Bravo's 2007 list of "100 Funniest Movies". Witherspoon received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, and the 2002 MTV Movie Award for Best Female Performance.
The box office success led to a 2003 sequel, Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde, and a 2009 direct-to-DVD spin-off, Legally Blondes. Additionally, Legally Blonde: The Musical premiered on January 23, 2007, in San Francisco and opened in New York City at the Palace Theatre on Broadway on April 29, 2007, starring Laura Bell Bundy.
As of June 2018, Witherspoon has been in discussions with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to produce a third instalment in the Legally Blonde film series. In addition to reprising her role as Elle Woods, Witherspoon is bringing back both Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith to pen the film's script. MGM later confirmed in a Twitter post that Legally Blonde 3 is set to be released on February 14, 2020.
Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon), an attractive, wealthy and popular fashion merchandising student and president of her Delta Nu sorority, is crushed when her boyfriend Warner Huntington III (Matthew Davis) breaks up with her over a romantic dinner rather than proposing to her, as she was expecting. He argues that he needs a more serious woman in order to fulfill his political aspirations, which include attending Harvard Law. Encouraged by her sorority sisters, Elle decides to also enroll in Harvard Law in order to win Warner back. After much effort, Elle manages to gain admission but soon discovers that the personalities and atmosphere in Harvard are very different from hers and she is thrown out of class during her first day by the strict Professor Stromwell (Holland Taylor) and a classmate named Vivian (Selma Blair) for not having prepared for the lecture. Elle is later horrified to discover that Vivian is Warner's fiancée.
None of Elle's classmates take her seriously and she is friendless at the university aside from Emmett Richmond (Luke Wilson), an associate at Harvard who gives her advice on handling each of her professors, and a beautician named Paulette (Jennifer Coolidge) who encourages her to try to win over Warner. Elle repeatedly tries to fit in with the others but is repeatedly rebuffed. Vivian even goes so far as to lie to Elle about a party invitation, falsely telling her that it was a costume party, humiliating her in front of her classmates. She is also ridiculed by Warner after informing him of her intent to apply for a prestigious internship with Professor Callahan (Victor Garber), as Warner tells her that she is not smart enough and is wasting her time. This motivates Elle to prove herself, as she begins to study law seriously and even manages to use her knowledge to help Paulette reclaim her dog from an ex-boyfriend.
After several months of dramatic improvement, Elle, along with Warner, Vivian and another student Enid Wexler, is given an internship at Callahan's law office, where they will be working on a murder case, defending a prominent fitness instructor named Brooke Windham (Ali Larter), who refuses to produce an alibi for the murder. Recognizing her as a personal role model and former Delta Nu member, Elle manages to discover the alibi but keeps it secret due to a personal promise with Brooke, which impresses Vivian and leads to the two women beginning to bond after it was revealed that she was keeping the alibi confidential and that Warner blatantly said to sell out her friend for benefits; during their alone time, Vivian revealing to Elle that Warner only got into Harvard via a call from his father (a distinguished alumni) to the school board, because he was on the waiting list.
During the trial Elle manages to find holes in the prosecution's case such as proving that the prosecution's main witness was lying/perjuring about having an affair with Brooke, pointing out that he is gay. Seemingly impressed, Callahan invites Elle to his office later that evening, where he makes a sexual pass at her. Vivian witnesses the pass but not Elle angrily spurning his advances and angrily accuses Elle of using her looks to get ahead. Elle considers leaving Harvard and goes to Paulette's salon to let her know, but is encouraged by Professor Stromwell, who happened to be at the salon.
When the trial resumes, Emmett explains to Brooke how Callahan's behavior caused Elle to quit her internship, leaving Vivian to regret her actions towards Elle. Brooke then decides to fire Callahan and replace him with Elle, who is able to defend her due to Massachusetts' Supreme Judicial Court rule 3.03, which allows Elle to legally appear on a defendant's behalf under Emmett's supervision, as he is a licensed attorney. Although nervous, Elle manages to catch Brooke's step-daughter Chutney Windham (Linda Cardellini) in a lie during cross-examination, as she claimed that she could not have heard the gun shot because she was washing her hair after getting a perm earlier that day. Elle then points out that freshly permed hair cannot be washed within a 24-hour period without deactivating the perming chemical ammonium thioglycolate, which Chutney should know as she had received over 30 perm treatments during her life. Upset, Chutney accidentally reveals that she hated Brooke for being the same age as her. She confesses that she intended to shoot Brooke but accidentally shot and killed her father by mistake, thinking it was Brooke who had entered the house. Chutney is then arrested for murder, with all charges against Brooke dismissed. After the trial, Warner unsuccessfully tries to persuade Elle to take him back, only for her to mock him by stating that he is not serious enough for her.
The story ends with Elle graduating from Harvard two years later and giving the graduation speech. Vivian broke off her engagement to Warner and is now Elle's best friend, while Warner graduates with no honors, no job offers and no girlfriend. Paulette ends up marrying a UPS guy (Bruce Thomas) she had been infatuated with throughout the film and is expecting a baby, to be named Elle. Emmett has started his own firm and he and Elle have been dating since the trial, with him planning to propose to her later that night.
- Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods
- Luke Wilson as Emmett Richmond
- Selma Blair as Vivian Kensington
- Matthew Davis as Warner Huntington III
- Victor Garber as Professor Callahan
- Jennifer Coolidge as Paulette Bonafonté
- Holland Taylor as Professor Stromwell
- Ali Larter as Brooke Taylor-Windham
- Jessica Cauffiel as Margot
- Alanna Ubach as Serena McGuire
- Oz Perkins as "Dorkie" David Kidney
- Linda Cardellini as Chutney Windham
- Bruce Thomas as UPS Guy
- Meredith Scott Lynn as Enid Wexler
- Wayne Federman as Harvard Admissions Counselor
- Raquel Welch as Mrs. Windham-Vandermark
- Greg Serano as Enrique Salvatore
The film is based upon the book of the same name by Amanda Brown, who built the story upon her real life experiences as a blonde attending Stanford Law School, while being obsessed with fashion and beauty, reading Elle magazine, and frequently clashing with the personalities of her fellow peers.
Brown said that when she first arrived to Stanford Law, she discovered she had made a big mistake. "I was in my first week of law school, in 1993, and I saw this flyer for "The Women of Stanford Law," so I was like, "I'll go and meet some nice girls. Whatever."
Brown wrote letters to her parents about these experiences, which she adapted into a manuscript and sent to an agent, who was initially drawn to it because it was the only manuscript written on pink paper.
Producer Marc Platt was intrigued by the character of Elle Woods when an unpublished novel manuscript was delivered to him."What I loved about this story is that it's hilarious, it's sexy and, at the same time, it's empowering," says Platt. "The world looks at Elle and sees someone who is blonde and beautiful but nothing more. Elle, on the other hand, doesn't judge herself or anybody else. She thinks the world's great, she's great, everyone's great and nothing can change that. She's truly an irrepressible modern heroine."
Screenwriters Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith spent two days on Stanford's campus in the spring of 2000 doing research for their screenplay based on Brown's novel.
Both USC and Stanford refused to allow the producers to use their college names in the film. "[The producers of the film] asked if they could set the film at USC, but the images of her as an undergraduate and being in a sorority ... we felt there was too much stereotyping going on," says Elijah May, campus filming coordinator at USC. The production settled on having Elle go to a fictional college called CULA.
Although the film is primarily set at Harvard University, campus scenes were filmed at the University of Southern California,University of California, Los Angeles, California Institute of Technology, and Rose City High School in Pasadena, California. The graduation scene was filmed at Dulwich College in London, England, since Witherspoon was in that city filming The Importance of Being Earnest. Harvard University appears in the film briefly in certain aerial shots.
Witherspoon researched the character by studying sorority girls on their campuses and associated hot spots. She went to dinner with them and joked she was conducting an "anthropological study."
"I could have gone into this and been really ditsy and played what I would have thought this character was, and I would have missed a whole other side of her," Witherspoon added. "But by going down to Beverly Hills, hanging out in Neiman Marcus, eating in their cafe and seeing how these women walk and speak, I got into the reality of the character. I saw how polite these women are, and I saw how much they value their female friendships and how important it is to support each other."
The film's costume designer Sophie De Rakoff bonded with Witherspoon over Dolly Parton. De Rakoff said that Elle's iconic pink suit in the film "was all organic and intuitive. I designed costumes for Elle Woods that moved the story forward and fitted the moment. Reese and I actually went to visit a sorority house in the early prep, and it was just obvious that pink should be her signature color."
The "bend and snap" scene
The "bend and snap" scene — where Elle explains to Paulette how to get her crush's attention — almost didn't make it into the movie. "[Producer] Marc [Platt] wanted a B plot for Paulette (Jennifer Coolidge)," co-writer Karen McCullah told Entertainment Weekly. "At first we were like, 'Should the store be robbed?'" Co-writer Kirsten Smith observed, "I think we spent a week or two trying to figure out what the B plot and this big set piece should be. There were crime plots. We were pitching scene after scene and it all felt very tonally weird."
Later, while brainstorming at a bar in Los Angeles, McCullah came up with a solution: "What if Elle shows [Paulette] a move so she can get the UPS guy?" In the spur of the moment, Smith invented a move, standing up and demonstrating what would become the bend and snap. Smith explains, "It was a spontaneous invention. It was a completely drunken moment in a bar." Director Robert Luketic later adapted the "bend and snap" move into a dance number for the film.
"... It was a fully choreographed number by Toni Basil, and she was awesome," Witherspoon recalls. "She did the whole dance."
"I remember just reading it and thinking it was the most hysterical thing ever," she added. "That is still the most asked request I get from people. Even this past year, when I have been giving speeches or talking about whatever, they always ask me, 'Will you do the bend and snap?' I have a feeling I will be doing the bend and snap until I am 95."
Legally Blonde was released on July 13, 2001 in North America. Its opening weekend gross of $20 million made it a sleeper hitfor the struggling MGM studio, and it went on to gross $96.5 million in North America and $45.2 million elsewhere, for a worldwide total of $141.7 million. The film was released in the United Kingdom on October 26, 2001, and opened on #2, behind American Pie 2.
The film was a critical success. Based on 130 reviews, collected by review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 69% of the critics gave Legally Blonde positive ratings, ranking the film as "fresh". Most reviews praised Reese Witherspoon's lead performance, although some denigrated the overall film. Metacritic reported that the film had an average score of 59, based on 31 reviews. At the 2001 Golden Globe Awards ceremony, the film was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Picture – Musical or Comedy. The same year, Witherspoon was also nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Actress – Musical or Comedy.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
- 2008: AFI's 10 Top 10:
- Nominated Courtroom Drama Film
- Main article: Legally Blonde (soundtrack)
A soundtrack album was released in 2001 on A&M Records, including the songs:
- "Watch Me Shine" by Joanna Pacitti
- "Sound of Milwaukee" by Fatboy Slim
- "Can't Get Me Down" by Lo-Ball
- "We Could Still Belong Together" by Lisa Loeb
- "Don't Need You To (Tell Me I'm Pretty)" by Samantha Mumba
- "One Girl Revolution" by Superchick
- "Magic" by The Black Eyed Peas featuring Terry Dexter
- "Sex Machine" by Mýa
- "That's the Way (I Like It)" by KC and the Sunshine Band
- "You Sexy Thing" by Hot Chocolate
- "Get Down on It" by Kool & the Gang
- "Love Is a Beautiful Thing" by Krystal
- "A Thousand Miles" by Vanessa Carlton
- "Baby, Come on Over" by Samantha Mumba
- "Perfect Day" by Hoku
- "Ooh La La" by Valeria
Main article: Legally Blonde (musical)
In February 2007, a musical adaptation premiered on Broadway to mixed reviews, starring Laura Bell Bundy as Elle, Christian Borleas Emmett, Orfeh as Paulette, Nikki Snelson as Brooke, Richard H. Blake as Warner, Kate Shindle as Vivienne, and Michael Rupertas Callahan. Other cast members included Andy Karl, Leslie Kritzer, Annaleigh Ashford, DeQuina Moore, and Natalie Joy Johnson. The show, Bundy, Borle, and Orfeh were all nominated for Tony Awards. Later, the Broadway show was the focus of an MTV reality-TV series called Legally Blonde: The Musical – The Search for Elle Woods, in which the winner would take over the role of Elle on Broadway. Bailey Hanks from Anderson, South Carolina, won the competition.
Legally Blonde had a successful run at the Savoy Theatre in London's West End, starring Sheridan Smith, Susan McFadden, and Carley Stenson as Elle, and Duncan James, Richard Fleeshman, Simon Thomas, and Ben Freeman as Warner. During the three-year run, the cast also included Alex Gaumond, Denise Van Outen, and Lee Mead.