Film Torments: Legally Blondes (2009)

THIS week on Torments, Dan looks at another hated sequel to a beloved set of films.

Did you even know this was a thing? I’m not trying to be condescending here. I’ve never seen Legally Blonde or its initial sequel, but I’ve often been told that they’re fun, harmless romps with a winning lead in Reese Witherspoon. Reese, at least, had the sense and good grace to move on from this career-making role and win an Oscar, but the brain parasite that latched onto her around the time of Four Christmases laid enough eggs to put have her name carved on the producer credits for Legally Blondes.

That’s the only reason I could fathom for seeing Witherspoon’s name in bold for this rancid sack of shit. This disgusting, vapid celebration of capitalist excess is a rallying cry for comrades everywhere. It makes you want to learn L’Internationale and rattle the bars of the neo-liberalist cage until the walls break down and the world stops turning. It makes you yearn for turn-of-the-century Moscow, where the thought of putting bullets in the bourgeoisie suddenly became deeply appealing.

I kid. Maybe. No. Legally Blondes is not a catalyst for violent revolution, nor is it a catalyst for much else beyond revulsion and nausea. The film is a cheaply-produced portrait of dripping, grinning wealth, pouring from the pretty-pink seams of these vile facsimiles of human experience. It’s a craven cashing-in on a property that had its day in order to exploit a much younger audience unfamiliar with the source material.

And isn’t that just life? Isn’t life just a hopeless, smiley simulacrum that makes pedestals of garbage and icons of the vacuous? Aren’t we all watching the hands of the clock rotate as the world turns, turns, turns? Are we not indivisible? In the cosmic stew that swirls above our ignorant heads – in the waxing diluvia of dying suns and star-sea sprawls – do we place ourselves with confidence and mercy? When two tribes go to war, is a point really the only thing that can be scored?

These questions and more dribbled through my brain as Legally Blondes unfurled its garish miasma, but the central question was: Why? and, more specifically: Why now? Red, White and Blonde, the second instalment of this in-name-only trilogy, was made in 2003. Legally Blondes arrived in 2009, straight to ABC and the Disney Channel. The latter is particularly important because Blondes follows the sickly Disney Channel television movie formula, grinding it down into a fine paste. (I happen to be very familiar with this formula, having seen High School Musical and The Cheetah Girls 2 approximately 18 times each. Thanks, Kristy.)

The film follows the twin relatives (Rebecca and Camilla Rosso) of Elle Woods, Witherspoon’s character from the originals. They continually reference Elle and how much they love her, giving voice to the apparent, fawning adoration that director “Savage” Steve Holland bears for Amanda Brown and Robert Luketic, writer and director of the original respectively. They’re also, somewhat inexplicably, English cousins to the American Elle. The Rosso twins actually are English, which makes their teaky affectation of Received Pronunciation all the more bizarre and unwieldy.

The twins, Izzy and Annie, enrol in a prestigious private school in California via scholarship. Their catty peers sneer at them for being driven to school in a Mini. Tiffany (Brittany Curran) is the most Disney Villainous of the bunch, whose cock-eyed dismay at these two poms vacantly wandering through her halls is probably the most entertaining thing about the film. I say that at a stretch – the film is about as entertaining as mandatory sterilisation – but Curran tries her pantomime damndest to make this worthwhile.

The problem, of course, is that Mean Girls killed this entire genre by being too good. (Mean Girls 2 killed it by being shite.) There’s nothing here to distinguish Legally Blondes from the other deluge of similarly vapid, high school lowbrow comedies aimed for the not-quite-old-enough-to-watch-Nickelodeon crowd. If anything, it’s even more willing to provoke the gag reflex than the usual fare. So crass is the film’s celebration of wealth and privilege that the villains’ ultimate punishment is being sent off to – gasp! – public school on a bus!!

The montages of rich white girls fawning over the latest designer togs are egregious and legion, but the standardised, facile wish-fulfilment rings hollow. Its slavish devotion to the original films is obvious and galling, even to someone who’s never seen them, but the sheer audacity of turning the identity-affirming charm of its predecessors into corporate, vacuous drek is an insult in itself. Further – and this is far funnier than anything in the film proper – its ultimate “message” of being true to oneself and not being defined by possession and wealth clashes very, very hard with the on-screen salivation over possessions and wealth. The irony is staggering.

Legally Blondes is an embarrassment of embarrassments. It’s a desperately shallow indictment of the love of money, wrapped in a cutesy, childish bow to be sold to little children who wouldn’t know any better. But children are smarter than this. They can see through this kind of obnoxious bullshit, peer right into the film’s scorched, black heart and recoil at what they find. I’m proud of you, children I’ve never met. I’m proud of you.

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