Can a Southern California sorority queen survive the rigors of Harvard Law School, overcome virulent anti-blondeism, triumph in class and in the courtroom, and get the cute, sensitive, brainy guy in the end?
That’s how the question might be answered by Elle Woods, the central character of the movie Legally Blonde, a comedy about a fashion major at USC who becomes an unlikely star student at Harvard Law School. But, like many HLS students, she faces daunting obstacles in her climb (in pink Prada shoes) to the top: students who think she’s dumb, a professor who thinks she’s hot, and an ambitious boyfriend who thinks she’s not political wife material. She even has to overcome the objections of her father, who says, “Sweetheart, you don’t need law school. Law school is for people who are boring and ugly and serious. And you, Button, are none of those things.”
The script is based on a novel by a Stanford Law graduate, and the movie was originally set at that school. But the producers decided Harvard would serve as an even more alien environment for the California-to-the-core Elle, played by Reese Witherspoon, star of Election and Cruel Intentions.
“It’s a great fish-out-of-water story,” said Christian McLaughlin, vice president of Marc Platt Productions, which began shooting the movie in October for a planned summer release. The production company has worked with the School in an attempt to ensure accuracy in its presentation of HLS. Although some of the fictional students mistreat the heroine of the story, McLaughlin said that viewers–many of whom will be younger than typical law students–will be left with a positive impression of HLS.
“I would hope that it would inspire people to dream to go to Harvard Law School,” he said. “Everyone involved in this movie wants to accurately reflect the Harvard Law experience.”
For Alissa Vradenburg ’96, the movie does indeed bring back memories of her time at the School. A talent manager who represents actors for Industry Entertainment in Los Angeles, Vradenburg read the script and recognized the difficulties that Elle faces in the movie.
“I definitely felt some of the automatic prejudices that come with being from California, liking the entertainment business, and being blonde,” she said. “People would tend to pass judgment on me.” Vradenburg added that she experienced “prejudices based on hair color, which sounds superficial but was really true.”
Vradenburg said that the gibes she sometimes endured did not diminish the value of her HLS education. That too is the message of the movie, she said. If we could meet Elle after her graduation, said Vradenburg, she knows that the blonde whose gift for fashion is only surpassed by her gift for jurisprudence would feel the same way about HLS.
“I think she still doesn’t take herself too seriously yet knows that she can accomplish things that even she never thought herself capable of,” Vradenburg said. “And I think that’s what Harvard does for a lot of people.”