Reese Witherspoon has had a decades-long career in Hollywood, taking a variety of parts and really expanding her range over the years. But it’s easy to forget that her time on the screen was at risk of being typecast mostly because of how good she was in playing a specific part. In this case, it was the somewhat ditzy and determined blonde who could captivate the screen and bring some rather unintentional laughs. That’s because she crushed it in Legally Blonde all the way back in 2001. Now that movie is killing it on Netflix, sitting in the top-10 of most-watched movies on the platform in the United States.
Legally Blonde hit the screens two decades ago in 2001 and was definitely a movie made for a different time, long before college admissions scandals were commonplace. Reese Witherspoon plays Elle Woods, a Los Angeles area socialite, and fashionista whose primary concerns are staying in style, keeping abreast of the social fabric of Hollywood, and dating her boyfriend who just also happens to be the Governor of California’s son. When he invites her to dinner, she thinks it’s going to be of the marriage proposal variety, but instead it’s merely a public place for a breakup. According to the WASP-y named Warner Huntington, she just isn’t marriage material for a guy with his political aspirations.
This sets Reese Witherspoon on a path towards academic redemption. She chooses to apply to Harvard in an effort to follow Warner there and show him she’s going to take things a bit more seriously. The effort appears anything but realistic with Elle’s fashion leanings standing in stark contrast to the hallowed ivy-laced walls of the institution. But because this is a silly movie she gets into Harvard and thus begins a true fish-out-of-water film. Here, check out the trailer for Legally Blonde.
The film is, of course, meant to be overwhelmingly silly with Reese Witherspoon standing out against her Ivy League surroundings. Because she makes no effort to hide her predilections for fashion and upward social movement, but also because she actually is a kind person, she begins to find success at the university. It starts with making the most unlikely of friends around her but continues when her law school professor chooses her to help in a high-profile case. It’s here that Elle begins to buckle down and eschew some of the pieces of her persona which might have been problematic before.
For all its silliness, Reese Witherspoon is perfect in this part that ultimately helped launch her career in Hollywood. She’d taken a number of different roles before this, typically of a similar type (hence the almost typecasting) but this was her first true starring role. She pulls it off, becoming something of a comedic actress on the screen based on the sheer differences between her and the surroundings. The movie really shouldn’t work, but it does mostly because Witherspoon makes the character so damn likable. She exudes innocence, confidence, ditziness, and confidence all at the same time. This is incredibly tough to pull off, but she does it.
Legally Blonde ended up being a massive hit at the box office, earning $142 million in sales on just an $18 million budget. It spawned a sequel Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde, and even a Broadway musical aptly named, Legally Blonde: The Musical. The film showcased Reese Witherspoon as a star in the making.
And Legally Blonde was a hit with critics as well. The comedy is sitting at 70% on Rotten Tomatoes and 59 on Metacritic. Both of these numbers are way higher than they should be considering the general gestalt of the film, but again that has almost all to do with Reese Witherspoon. Almost anyone else in this role would have come off as brain dead and unlikeable. But she’s able to bring such a unique and singular presence to the role that it ended up solid with critics and fans alike.
This isn’t the end of the line for Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods. Legally Blonde 3 is in the works and will hit the screens in May of 2022. So before that, go over to check out the movie that got it all started. It still plays today.