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LEGALLY BLONDE
Platinum Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Selma Blair, Matthew Davis, Victor Garber, Jennifer Coolidge
Director:  Robert Luketic, Sally Field, Regina King, Bob Newhart
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1, Pan & Scan 1.33:1 (Legally Blonde)
Studio:  MGM
Features:  See Review
Length:  Legally Blonde 96 Minutes, Legally Blonde 2 95 Minutes
Release Date:  November 9, 2004

“YOU got into Harvard Law School?”

“What...like it's hard?”

Legally Blonde ***1/2

They don’t make many comedies as charming and effervescent as Legally Blonde anymore…frankly, there aren’t many stars today who have what it takes to make them work.  Fortunately for first time feature director Robert Luketic, Reese Witherspoon is that star, and then some.

Ms. Witherspoon’s stock has been rising for years…I feel like one of the fortunate critics who bought in at the IPO.  I’ve considered her one of the best young actresses working for years now, and to hear others praising her talent and the quality of her work in this film, proclaiming her glorious future, brings a smile to my face.

And so does the movie.  Legally Blonde is one of those out-on-a-limb pictures with a dangerous premise that will either work beautifully or sink miserably.  With all factors working together, it does the former.  It’s a fabulously funny script with lines that range from the clever to the absurd, and delivers laughs ranging from the knowing chuckle to the accidental loss of bladder control.

Elle Woods (Witherspoon) is a perky, sweet California sorority girl who may radiate an empty-headed charm, but is far from a “dumb blonde”.  How far?  When her boyfriend Warner (Davis) callously dumps her for “not being serious enough” (i.e., bad for his image), she takes her 4.0 grade point average and a 179 on the LSAT (no small feat, folks) to Harvard University’s prestigious law school, in hopes of winning him back.

What’s nice about the story is that even though she goes to law school for the wrong reasons, and finds herself in over her head at first, she stays for the right reasons, and succeeds on her own terms.  Elle is more than a pretty comic possibility.  She is a character that wins our hearts, and keeps them for the long haul.

Yes, law school is tough and competitive.  Professors scoff at her, other students avoid her like the plague.  But she stays determined not to let what others think of her veer her off course.  When she triumphs, it’s a win that seems within her limitations, but it’s enough for a start.

The whole cast is good, including the likable Luke Wilson, Reese Witherspoon’s Cruel Intentions co-mate Selma Blair, Victor Garber and Jennifer Coolidge, with a brief appearance by Raquel Welch.  But this is a picture that belongs solely to its star.

Gary Ross, writer and director of Pleasantville, gave Reese Witherspoon one of the best accolades I’ve ever heard bestowed upon an actor…he said that she was the only performer he had ever seen that completely disappeared into a role so that there was no trace of her real self left.  Watching her over the years, I can verify that.  Her range of performances from dramatic to comic have been vastly varied and memorable.  She never repeats herself, and she never feels the need to hang on to one iota of her real personality.

Legally Blonde will never be considered a GREAT movie, to be sure, but it works because it succeeds in what it sets out to do.  It’s charming from start to finish, with plenty of laughs and a winning central character.  On that, I rest my case.  

Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde **

But hold on, friends, we have an appeal.  

When a studio produces a surprise hit, the one thing that's not so surprising is the inevitable attempt to cash in on a sequel.  And so Ms. Witherspoon, whom I had just praised as never repeating herself, had to do just that.  For an actress of her caliber, it might have been an error in judgment.  I have a feeling she said everything she wanted to say with Elle Woods in the first movie and left nothing on the table.  With Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde, it sometimes feels like she's filibustering to stall for time.  Call this one Ms. Woods Goes to Washington.

After graduating Harvard and earning a job in a legal firm, our favorite Mademois-Elle finds herself a cause:  after a search for her little dog's birth parents leads her to discover make-up testing on animals, she decides to take her case to Congress, losing her job but finding a new one as an aide to Representative Victoria Rudd (Field), who is sponsoring a new animal rights bill.

What seemed charming in the first movie starts to wear thin in the second, as Elle's naive ditziness goes for comedy while trying to never completely disguise the fact that she has a brain as well.  She's someone who looks like she could be the poster child for Estee Lauder, but manages to deliver a speech before a joint session of Congress that comes across as ridiculous, but somehow gets the politicians who favored animal testing to re-examine their conscience and change positions.  I assume in Legally Blonde 3, one of these Congressmen will be running for president and proclaiming he'd had only one clear, consistent position on animal testing all along.

Arianna Huffington actually wrote a column when this movie came out about taking her daughters to see it and how inspired they were by it...I guess if my mother were as much of a flake as Ms. Huffington, I'd have probably been inspired by Elle, too.  Director Charles Herman-Wurmfeld does his best to deliver a Capra-esque offering, but the ingredients have gotten a little stale.  

Though I'd rather stare at Reese Witherspoon than James Stewart, I missed his true earnestness and conviction, which in his day, turned a somewhat sappy story into a great film.  I don't know whether he's looking down at Elle Woods with a smile or a grimace.

Video ****

These are superb anamorphic transfers from MGM (pan & scan version included on the same side of Legally Blonde).  Elle Woods is a walking palate of colors, and these presentations render all of them brightly and beautifully, with shading from subtle to loud and no bleeding onto darker backgrounds.  Images are sharp and crisply drawn from start to finish, with good detail from the foreground to the background, and no grain or break-up to distort the visuals.  Scenes in lower lighting reflect just as well as brighter ones, without losing definition or contrast. 

Audio ***

The 5.1 audio tracks make mostly subtle uses of the rear stage, for effects like crowd scenes or outdoor sounds.  They aren’t dominant in the mix, and for the most part, add just a bit of ambience.  The forward stages handles most of the dialogue and music, and both render without complaint.  The song scores gives the tracks a bit of dynamic range.  The .1 channel is rarely used, but given the nature of the pictures, not really missed.

Features ****

MGM has really staked a reputation for themselves this year with their Special Edition line of DVDs, and their new double disc Legally Blonde Platinum Collection is no exception.  For starters, the packaging is clever, putting both discs in what looks like a pink briefcase, and throwing in other pink accessories, like a notepad, pen, and word magnets.  Nicely done.

Legally Blonde begins with  two commentary tracks…the first one is a rather entertaining listen, with director Robert Luketic, producer Mark Platt, and star Reese Witherspoon.  It’s a humorous and informative listen…I think both men have little crushes on their star, though!  The second commentary track features a large number of crew members, from the writers to stylists to the animal trainer, for those who just can’t get enough!  Also included on side one is a “trivia track”, which turns the subtitles into a very colorful session of “Pop-Up Video”.

Side 2 contains the other extras, starting with two featurettes.  The first one, “Inside Legally Blonde”, is a standard cast and crew interview piece that mixes stories about making the film with the inevitable pats on each others backs.  The second one, “The Hair That Ate Hollywood”, is about…well, hair.  Rounding out the features are eight deleted scenes with director introductions, a trailer for this film and the Special Edition DVD of The Princess Bride, and a music video for “Perfect Day” by Hoku.

Legally Blonde 2 features a cast commentary with Jennifer Coolidge, Jessica Caufield and Alanna Ubach (what, no Reese?), a  22 minute "Blonde Ambition" featurette, 7 deleted scenes, a two minute gag reel, a music video from LeAnn Rimes, an interactive quiz, photo gallery and trailers for this and other MGM releases.

Summary:

The Legally Blonde Platinum Collection delivers an amusing way to package two hit films together.  The only drawback is that you'll really notice how much lesser the sequel is than the original.  Still, I can think of worse ways to spend an afternoon than enjoying the charm and spirit of Reese Witherspoon in the comforts of my own living room. ;-)

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