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Legally Blonde: Feminism made fun

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Legally Blonde posterWe somehow ended up with quite a few cultural activities booked in May, the most recent of which was an outing to see the Drayton Festival production of Legally Blonde: The Musical.

And it was heck-a enjoyable. Sure, as in the movie, the perky cheeriness of Elle and her sorority sisters can be a little too much at times, but overall it was really funny, the story moved along well, it still had that satisfying arc of female strength and friendship, all with catchy songs and great choreography mixed in. Not too mention two very cute dogs (one of whom nearly stole the show). What’s not to love?

(Jean quote: “I enjoyed that way more than I thought I would. I’m shocked how much I enjoyed that.”)

But it reminded me just how bad I am at remembering plots of movies (books, too). All I could remember about the movie (apart from the fact that I’d liked it, and that it wasn’t a musical) was that it was about a blonde sorority girl who gets into Harvard Law to try to win her boyfriend back, but who then discovers she’s way more intellectually capable than anyone had given her credit for.

All  of which happens in the musical as well, only with more songs. But the hairdresser character? The internship program? The exercise video queen on trial for murder? I had no recollection whatsoever of any of those plot details.

So yesterday I watched the movie again, courtesy iTunes. (By the way, it’s not on Netflix, not available on redbox rental, nor at zip.ca. And iTunes / Google Play / Rogers on Demand all charge the same $5 to stream it, which seems a bit expensive, given you can buy the DVD for the same price. Anyway…) I quite liked it, again. And it turns out that an awful lot of the movie did make it into the musical. But the differences were interesting.

The hairdresser, Paulette, is a more major character

In the movie, her part is pretty small and a bit sad. In the musical she’s one of the best characters, the center point of a couple very fun numbers. And it’s clearer that Elle helping her get custody of her dog back is motivation for Elle to become sincerely interested in the law.

The new love interest, Emmett, is a more major character

This one is a bit more of a hmm. In the movie Emmett’s part is really quite small, and their entire relationship takes place in the dying seconds of the movie, via “Where are they now?” captions. So I can see why they wanted more of a budding romance within the musical. Emmett is definitely fleshed out into an appealing and interesting character. Their subtextual shopping expedition is another highlight of the musical, one that wasn’t in the film at all.

The troublesome part, to me, is that in the musical Emmett is the one who coaches and encourages Elle to buckle down once at Harvard. In the movie, she’s completely self-motivated to do so at the same point: already suspecting it will never be enough to win back Warner, her ex, but wanting to prove herself capable anyway.

So it’s a bit of a dilution of her empowerment, I think.

Though I did like that, in the musical, she’s the one who proposes to him, at the end.

The musical is more gay-positive

Maybe that’s just the difference 13 years makes? Certainly the lesbian law student is much more likable in the musical, no longer seeming as militant and angry as she does in the movie. And the stereotypical gay pool boy earns an entire, completely hilarious, song about those stereotypes: Gay, or European?

Gay or European? Musical number from Legally Blonde on YouTube

Professor Stromwell is gone

The musical has only the one law professor character, Callahan—the one whose sexual harassment makes Elle doubt anyone will ever see her as more than a “piece of ass”. But the movie has another professor character, a woman, who meets Elle after this incident and motivates her to fight back with: “If you’re going to let one stupid prick ruin your life, you’re not the girl I thought you were.”

In the musical, Vivian, Warner’s fiancee is the one who talks her into fighting back. In both movie and musical, it’s great that the two rivals for Warner’s affection become friends, though this is given more time in the movie. And, it’s not that it doesn’t work for Vivian to be the motivator here; it’s just that Professor Stromwell was a great character also (albeit in another very small part).

In conclusion

Basically, Legally Blonde, musical and movie, is just meant to be fun, and it is. But behind that is a decent message about female power and independence. It’s not perfect feminism, but it’s feminism nonetheless. (Notably, original novel, film script, and musical book were all written by women.)

A guilty pleasure, only without the guilt. Oh, my God, oh my God, you guys!

See also: Legally Blonde: A little slice of feminist heaven

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