20 Years Later, This is What ‘Legally Blonde’ Bought Proper And Incorrect About Work
Twenty years in the past this month, a blond Harvard regulation scholar who unapologetically cherished Barbie colours, manicures, blowouts and scented résumés entered our film theaters and received over hearts.
The 2001 movie “Legally Blonde” starred Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods, a lady who initially applies to Harvard Regulation College to win again her school boyfriend, Warner, who broke up together with her for not being critical sufficient. When Elle realizes that Warner won’t ever assume she’s adequate, she decides to turn out to be a lawyer herself and show her haters unsuitable.
Her quest to turn out to be a lawyer regardless of snobby fellow college students and skeptical pals, household and regulation professors grew to become a media franchise that features a film sequel, Broadway musical and a future third movie. Elle Woods has been referenced in an Ariana Grande video and have become a profession inspiration to ladies. Witherspoon advised an interviewer in 2017, “At the very least as soon as every week I’ve a lady come as much as me and say, ‘I went to regulation college due to “Legally Blonde.″’”
However what about “Legally Blonde” stills maintain up in relation to its messages about profession and work? After I first watched the movie as a child, I bear in mind being dazzled by Elle’s pink glittery outfits and oohing at her courtroom triumph when she used her data of perm upkeep to assist win a homicide case.
Now, in 2021, clunky Mac desktop computer systems are now not en vogue and the early 2000s style ― Tiffany necklaces and all ― feels nostalgic. However there’s nonetheless loads of the movie that continues to be related. Right here’s what nonetheless rings true ― and what positively doesn’t ― concerning the movie’s tackle careers and success.
It precisely portrays how cultural match and connections can matter greater than grades.
When ex-boyfriend Warner condescendingly tells Elle she received’t get the coveted internship he desires as a result of “You’re not sensible sufficient, sweetie,” Elle shoots again, “Did we not get into the identical regulation college, Warner? … We took the identical LSATs and we’re taking the identical lessons.”
However left unstated within the movie is that Elle and Warner, who attended the identical California college and certain did loads of the identical extracurriculars as different rich white school college students, additionally share the same pedigree that helped them get into an elite regulation college.
We discover out that Warner, who has a number of politicians in his household, had his dad place a name to get him off of the waitlist at Harvard. However Elle used her connections, too, simply ones which are much less appreciated by this patriarchal society. To face out from the gang of Harvard candidates, Elle hires “a Coppola” to direct a video admissions essay of herself in a scorching tub and round her sorority home.
Shocked and awed on the sight of Elle, the all-white male Harvard admissions board involves fast settlement to take an opportunity on Elle, mentioning that she has been in a Ricky Martin video and is a fake fur panty designer. “Aren’t we all the time on the lookout for variety?” one quips.
The scene inadvertently reveals how ridiculous elite admissions processes might be, counting on irrelevant, subjective components like extracurriculars and private networks to make life-changing selections about who belongs in an establishment. Utilizing the metric of cultural match over who has actual aptitude for the place is an sadly actual observe exterior of films, too, and it’s a dynamic “Legally Blonde” captures effectively.
It nails the betrayal felt when quid professional quo occurs within the office.
Lengthy earlier than the #MeToo motion, “Legally Blonde” confronted sexual harassment within the office. Callahan, the regulation professor who mentored Elle in her internship, asks to see her alone in his workplace.
First, Callahan praises Elle’s courtroom abilities, saying she shall be an amazing lawyer for following her instincts, then asks if she has thought of her profession path. Elle says she has not however that she is aware of getting a summer time affiliate job is aggressive. Callahan explains that competitors is basically about “understanding precisely what you need and the way far you’ll go to get it. How far will Elle go?” earlier than placing an undesirable hand on her thigh. Elle throws off his hand and storms off.
The subtext is evident: Callahan’s assist for getting an affiliate job is conditional upon Elle accepting his harassment. It’s a textbook case of quid professional quo sexual harassment, by which alternatives for development are conditioned on submission to unwelcome sexual advances. The harassment derails Elle’s confidence in herself and nearly causes her to drop out of regulation college as a result of she turns into satisfied Callahan gave her the internship solely as a result of he noticed her as a “piece of ass.”
However on the magnificence salon, Elle meets one other professor, Stromwell, performed by Holland Taylor, who delivers the film’s iconic pep speak: “Should you’re going to let one silly prick break your life, you’re not the lady I believed you had been.”
In consequence, Elle stays true to herself, will get employed to signify a consumer over Callahan’s objections and does find yourself graduating from regulation college with a prestigious job lined up. Elle has her success story, however Callahan’s transfer reveals the challenges ladies face that may take them out of their careers earlier than they even start.
But it surely doesn’t acknowledge the merciless abuse of energy Elle workout routines over a witness in a key scene…
All through the movie, Elle’s data of magnificence, make-up and designer style is underestimated, regardless that it’s a invaluable asset that helps clear her consumer’s title within the movie’s climactic second.
“Legally Blonde” efficiently reveals that the smarts that may make you profitable in your chosen occupation can come from many experiences, not simply from the superior levels already earned by Elle’s snobby, educated classmates.
However one key scene feels jarring now to look at. In the course of the homicide trial by which she assists, Elle makes a broad assumption that solely a homosexual man would know that her sneakers are Prada and believes this may refute the prosecution’s narrative that Elle’s consumer and a pool employee named Enrique are having an affair to swindle the sufferer. Elle will get one other regulation scholar to out Enrique throughout his testimony by asking Enrique what his boyfriend’s title is, and he solutions.
Enrique’s outing is framed as a rah-rah second of feminist triumph for Elle, who used data possessed by not one of the lead male attorneys round her to assist their consumer. However the reality Elle facilitates outing another person takes me out of the film now. It makes me really feel queasy to see Enrique Salvatore, the one Latinx queer character within the movie with a talking function, outed so cruelly.
…and “Legally Blonde” utterly fails on the racial and ethnic variety of an actual scholar physique.
Elle the intrepid first-year regulation scholar embodies an influence fantasy you could embrace your femininity and love pink and nonetheless get forward in your profession, however finally it’s a fantasy reserved for white ladies. The absence of individuals of shade in Elle’s Harvard scholar physique is obvious. In 2004, when the film is meant to happen, the actual Harvard Regulation College wasn’t as white because the one “Legally Blonde” depicted. As author Ella Ceron factors out, that yr Harvard Regulation was about 52% college students of shade. The incoming class of 2023 is 47% college students of shade and 17% LGBTQ college students.
In the end, I nonetheless snort and smile at Elle’s journey to turning into a lady who owns her ambition, and who will roar triumphantly when she finds out she will get a coveted internship that her no-good ex stated she was not sensible sufficient to get.
However I can longer purchase Elle as an outsider. The movie frames her as a cultural outlier at her regulation college as a result of she is from California, wears vibrant pink, and has a perky, cheerful persona in comparison with her insular East Coast scholar friends who gown in muted, boring colours. However now I see that if you take away her colourful outfits and equipment, Elle Woods shouldn’t be all that completely different from the established order of the folks in energy she desires to hitch. She suits proper in.