20 Years Later, Here’s What ‘Legally Blonde’ Got Right And Wrong About Work



Twenty years in the past this month, a blond Harvard regulation pupil who unapologetically liked 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 girl who initially applies to Harvard Law School to win again her school boyfriend, Warner, who broke up together with her for not being severe sufficient. When Elle realizes that Warner won’t ever assume she’s ok, she decides to develop into a lawyer herself and show her haters incorrect.

Her quest to develop into a lawyer regardless of snobby fellow college students and skeptical pals, household and regulation professors turned a media franchise that features a film sequel, Broadway musical and a future third film. Elle Woods has been referenced in an Ariana Grande video and have become a profession inspiration to girls. Witherspoon told an interviewer in 2017, “At least once a week I have a woman come up to me and say, ‘I went to law school because of “Legally Blonde.’”

But what about “Legally Blonde” stills maintain up relating to its messages about profession and work? When 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 not en vogue and the early 2000s vogue ― Tiffany necklaces and all ― feels nostalgic. But there’s nonetheless a whole lot of the movie that continues to be related. Here’s what nonetheless rings true ― and what undoubtedly 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 smart enough, sweetie,” Elle shoots again, “Did we not get into the same law school, Warner? … We took the same LSATs and we’re taking the same classes.”

But left unstated within the movie is that Elle and Warner, who attended the identical California college and sure did a whole lot of the identical extracurriculars as different rich white school college students, additionally share an analogous pedigree that helped them get into an elite regulation faculty.

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. But Elle used her connections, too, simply ones which can be much less appreciated by this patriarchal society. To stand out from the gang of Harvard candidates, Elle hires “a Coppola” to direct a video admissions essay of herself in a sizzling 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, declaring that she has been in a Ricky Martin video and is a pretend fur panty designer. “Aren’t we always looking for diversity?” 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 choices about who belongs in an establishment. Using the metric of cultural match over who has actual aptitude for the place is an sadly actual follow exterior of films, too, and it’s a dynamic “Legally Blonde” captures nicely.

It nails the betrayal felt when quid professional quo occurs within the office.

Long 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 expertise, saying she shall be an awesome lawyer for following her instincts, then asks if she has thought-about 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 admittedly about “knowing exactly what you want and how far you will 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 obvious: Callahan’s help for getting an affiliate job is conditional upon Elle accepting his harassment. It’s a textbook case of (*20*) sexual harassment, during which alternatives for development are conditioned on submission to unwelcome sexual advances. The harassment derails Elle’s confidence in herself and virtually causes her to drop out of regulation faculty 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.”

But on the magnificence salon, Elle meets one other professor, Stromwell, performed by Holland Taylor, who delivers the film’s iconic pep speak: “If you’re going to let one stupid prick ruin your life, you’re not the girl I thought you were.”

As a outcome, Elle stays true to herself, will get employed to symbolize a consumer over Callahan’s objections and does find yourself graduating from regulation faculty with a prestigious job lined up. Elle has her success story, however Callahan’s transfer reveals the challenges girls face that may take them out of their careers earlier than they even start.

But it doesn’t acknowledge the merciless abuse of energy Elle workouts over a witness in a key scene…

Throughout the movie, Elle’s data of magnificence, make-up and designer vogue is underestimated, though it’s a invaluable asset that helps clear her consumer’s identify 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.

But one key scene feels jarring now to look at. During the homicide trial during which she assists, Elle makes a broad assumption that solely a homosexual man would know that her sneakers are Prada and believes this might 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 pupil to out Enrique throughout his testimony by asking Enrique what his boyfriend’s identify 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. But the actual fact 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” fully fails on the racial and ethnic variety of an actual pupil physique.

Elle the intrepid first-year regulation pupil embodies an influence fantasy that you may embrace your femininity and love pink and nonetheless get forward in your profession, however in the end it’s a fantasy reserved for white girls. The absence of individuals of coloration in Elle’s Harvard pupil physique is evident. In 2004, when the film is meant to happen, the true Harvard Law School wasn’t as white because the one “Legally Blonde” depicted. As writer Ella Ceron points out, that 12 months Harvard Law was about 52% students of color. The incoming class of 2023 is 47% students of color and 17% LGBTQ college students.

Ultimately, I nonetheless chuckle and smile at Elle’s journey to changing into a girl who owns her ambition, and who will roar triumphantly when she finds out she will get a coveted internship that her no-good ex mentioned she was not good sufficient to get.

But I can longer purchase Elle as an outsider. The movie frames her as a cultural outlier at her regulation faculty as a result of she is from California, wears vibrant pink, and has a perky, cheerful persona in comparison with her insular East Coast pupil friends who costume in muted, boring colours. But now I see that whenever you take away her colourful outfits and equipment, Elle Woods will not be all that totally different from the established order of the individuals in energy she desires to affix. She matches proper in.