It could’ve been Elle Woods’ chirpy resilience in the face of Harvard snobbery, the universality of the “bend and snap” or how she saved Cameron Diaz from buying that truly heinous angora sweater, but for whatever reason “Legally Blonde” reached me at the right time.
I nearly instantaneously identified with the endlessly quotable comedy of legal errors, insuring shades of myself in Elle( Reese Witherspoon) she was upending the expectations of what a blonde should be, as I was unsuccessfully attempting to integrate pink into my strict secondary school dress code. The “be yourself/ girl power” takeaway message apparently meant enough to yours truly to follow Elle’s adventures for two increasingly unfortunate sequels, a Broadway show and even a neighborhood Kidz Theater production of the musical at the ripe age of 24.
Not all heroes wear last season’s Prada shoes, OK?
This week marks the 15 th anniversary of “Legally Blonde” and, like any dutiful fan, I attained it my mission to break out that DVD I stole from my older sister’s best friend( this serves as my official apology) and rewatch the movie. I still chuckled at many of the things my middle-school-self find delightful Elle’s suggestion to Selma Blair’s character to “try not to look so constipated” but underneath the cotton-candy-colored aesthetic, I was confronted with something better sinister. For a movie that appealed so heavily to this preteen gay boy, it sure did traffic in lesbian stereotypes.
While the cinema has been rightfully challenged for its flimsy feminist principles Elle’s knowledge of hair treatments, instead of legal precedents, for example, is what secures her the big win how “Legally Blonde” engages with its gay characters deserves more examination. Considering Elle’s climactic triumph in court depends upon outing a closeted pool son on the stand, this seems worth noting on its anniversary.
Ah yes, the pond boy, Enrique Salvatore( Greg Serano ). He’s the lynchpin in Elle’s defense case with fitness guru Brooke Windham( Ali Larter ), who’s been accused of murdering her husband. As the primary witness for the prosecution, Enrique claims that he and Brooke were taking part in an illicit affair with plans to swindles the recently deceased for all he’s worth. During a recess, an impatient Elle find herself waiting behind Enrique at the water fountain, tapping her toe in annoyance. He responds to her twitch with a now-classic rejoinder:
( Mind you, he delivers this line while wearing the sparkliest red and green button-down shirt in recorded history, featuring an image of the Virgin Mary on the back .)
Putting those Harvard Law School skills of deduction to exam, our budding young lawyer realizes that he couldn’t have been having an affair with her client because, duh, he’s gay.
“Gay humen know designers, ” she tells the team matter-of-factly. “Straight humen don’t.”
Armed with this information, Elle’s romantic interest, Emmett( Luke Wilson ), tricks Enrique into outing himself on the stay where you are disclosing his boyfriend’s name is Chuck, a statement he immediately regrets constructing. Of course, Chuck is also in the courtroom and blizzards out before weeping, “You bitch.”
** Elle and Emmett smile at one another **
Watch the scene below:
Omigod, you guys , I don’t even know where to begin.
Perhaps I was so blinded by the pink-fueled message of empowerment or Ali Larter’s devastating courtroom lewks ( definitely the latter) that this blatantly problematic the representatives from a gay human scarcely registered.
For some reason, I readily accepted and at least partly internalized that lesbian men a) must have an encyclopedic knowledge of way, b) hide their sexuality for self-serving reasons, and c) exist to be either sassy or sexualized.
Brooke afterwards admits that she employed Enrique because of how good he looks in a Speedo. Receiving Cher videotapes in the pool home is another charge brought against him in the heated debate over the pond boy’s sexuality.
Even if you did identify with these stereotypically gay traits, employing the film’s logic, there is no other possible reason why someone might disguise their sex orientation other than to gain traction in court. Yes, he was lying on the stand. Yes, he’s an impediment to Elle’s triumphant trajectory. Yes, this movie is a total camp fest. But the is a lack of any sensitivity or repentance for outing person in such a public fashion is severely cringeworthy in retrospect.
People choose to remain in the closet in certain spaces for myriad reasons apart from sassily stepping on Elle Woods’ toes, like workplace discrimination, violence against LGBT people, access to housing, family pressures, etc. The only insight we receive into Enrique’s inner life comes from how distraught his boyfriend is when he tries to cover up their relationship. Attaining came to see you funny is a sensitive task, especially within the context of a campy rom-com geared toward straight audiences.
Compounding these problems is, of course, the depiction of the character’s race, which is played for gags( find costume description above ), while also strengthening racist tropes about Latinos being duplicitous and untrustworthy.
These issues were only reinforced by the stage adaptation, “Legally Blonde: The Musical, ” which debuted on Broadway six years after the original movie. The pond boy’s witnes was, in fact, expanded into an entire sung titled “There! Right There!( Gay Or European ?), ” in which the company offers reasons why he’s one or the other.
Lyrical sample: “Look at that tan, that tinted skin/ Look at the murderer shape he’s in/ Look at that somewhat stubbly chin/ Oh please he’s gay, entirely gay.”
So what are we to construct of Elle, the pool boy, his public jaunt and “Legally Blonde” 15 years later? Although the gay dog subplot in “Legally Blonde 2: Red White& Blonde” might indicate otherwise, representations of homosexuality on screen have thankfully progressed since the movie’s release. Cinemas of that era were rife with problematic portraits of lesbian people. Look no further than Witherspoon’s next commercial hit, “Sweet Home Alabama, ” to find another instance of extreme insensitivity to the LGBT experience. In a drunken fury, her character outs a childhood friend at a bar surrounded by his closest friends. Gay people in these movies don’t exist on their own terms, but instead for the purpose of advancing the journey of an Elle Woods or a Melanie Smooter( yes, that’s severely her character’s name in “Sweet Home Alabama” ).
Since Elle hurled her graduation hat in the air, we have become less willing to accept these portrayings of LGBT life, as the results of marginalization are more acute than ever. When I watched “Legally Blonde” for the first time in middle school, I was a 12 -year-old closet case ashamed of all the ways I might be different than the boys who didn’t drag their parents to Reese Witherspoon star vehicles on the weekend. How could I understand the implications of a character like Enrique, when the butt of every gag on screen was what I so deeply dreaded in myself? Now, as a proud homosexual human willing to expose his love of some “chick flick” 15 year later, I refuse to accept these representations because “Legally Blonde” and its audience deserve so much better.
The strongest thing about these movies is, and will always be, Elle Woods. But she can only shoulder so much shoddy plotting and simplistic characterizations before these problem places start to detract from why this universe was attractive in the first place. To truly honor “Legally Blonde, ” we should celebrate where the film succeeded and acknowledge where it fell short, because whoever said you can’t enjoy a movie while also being criticalwas seriously disturbed.
Read more: www.huffingtonpost.com