15 years before Ghostbusters, there was Elle Woods.
15 years ago, Legally Blonde introduced the world to the physical manifestation of femininity: Elle Woods. She totally embodies the third wave feminist ideals that women can have fun and unashamedly wear pink dresses and nail polish, have great hair, and walk in killer heels and still be taken seriously. Even when Elle suffers humiliation and sadness at the hands of the patriarchy and petty women, she overcomes it in the most feminine way possible: by being her fabulous self and using her vast knowledge of haircare to solve a huge murder trial and jumpstart her law career. Legally Blonde forged the pathway for female lead comedy movies like Bridesmaids, The Heat, Trainwreck, and now even the new Ghostbusters to follow. Legally Blonde told the women in those films that they can proudly be a woman and screw what everyone else expects them to be.
Bridesmaids came ten years after Legally Blonde and has its influence all over it. Elle Woods is there, in spirit, guiding Melissa McCarthy’s Megan through the course of the film. In Bridesmaids, Megan is the woman who is constantly herself and continually grows and perseveres through her humiliation to ultimately find success in her career. Megan, like Elle, is completely confident in herself to the point that she knows nothing can stand in her way. When Elle wears a Playboy Bunny costume to a party, she doesn’t let Vivian’s snarky comments defeat her. She uses them as motivation to get serious about law school. When her professor makes a pass at her, she rebuffs him and proves that she can be herself in the courtroom and thrive. In Bridesmaids, Air Marshall Jon, while initially repulsed by Megan, ends up falling in love with her. The bullies who threw firecrackers at her in high school don’t matter; she studied really hard, got great grades, and works in a high security level government job. The snooty bridal shop employees cannot shake her because she has a confidence that the other women in the film lack. Megan and Elle never let the haters get the best of them. Instead, they prove them wrong.
The Heat followed shortly after Bridesmaids and Legally Blonde’s lasting legacy could, again, be felt in it. Similar to Elle and her ex-boyfriend’s new fiancée Vivian, Ashburn (played by Sandra Bullock) and Mullins (played by Melissa McCarthy) overcome their differences and recognize the power in female friendship. At the start of Legally Blonde, Elle’s goal is to win back her ex-boyfriend Warner from his new fiancée, Vivian. Elle’s main tactic in this? Her sexuality. She shows up to a party, which she thought was a costume party, dressed as a Playboy bunny and flirts with Warner right in front of Vivian. She lays out on the Harvard lawn in a bikini top while Warner and his friends play football. But, when Vivian recognizes Elle is her intellectual equal and that she and Elle actually have much in common, the two form a friendship. The film even ends with a title card reading that the two are best friends. The strength in The Heat comes from the heart of the film: the bond between Mullins and Ashburn. True to the buddy cop genre, the two realize at the end that that if they realize that they each have something the other needs and need each other. Their strength comes from their sisterhood. Legally Blonde’s female friendship and The Heat’s female friendship poke fun at the idea of women only wanting to tear each other down. In both films, the friends develop a mutual respect for one another and help each other out when they need it.
In Trainwreck, the presence of Legally Blonde is felt by the protagonists flaunting their personal brands of femininity wherever they go. Elle uses her background in fashion to always look sophisticated and girly in the courtroom. She never wears the same outfit twice and her bold pinks, purples, and teals and blonde hair stand out from the sea of grey, navy, and black suits. Amy’s wardrobe in Trainwreck also proves a stark contrast to her fellow women. Her skirts are just too short for a work or professional environment, she wears low cut dresses to a baby shower, and she does a walk of shame with no shame. Amy is proud of her body and shows it off. In an interview with People Style news, Trainwreck’s costume designer Leesa Evans said of Amy’s appearance that, “[they] came up with the idea that [Amy] is a girl that goes out a lot, gets up late for work but still pulls it together.” Her brand of femininity is the same as Elle’s and it says, “Yeah, I am a woman and I have a great job and I dress how I want. What of it?” Their style sets them apart and it expresses who they are. Elle lost herself when she tried to fit in to how society expected her to look and Amy would not have been Amy if she dressed or looked any different.
Fifteen years later, Legally Blonde looks down from movie heaven smiling at all its beautiful, weird, and fun filmic relatives in Bridesmaids, The Heat, Trainwreck, and now Ghostbusters. Legally Blonde taught us that women in comedy movies can themselves and be hilarious and inspiring all at the same time. Elle’s way of leading was unique and uplifting to women. By being her feminine self, she set an example for the characters in those movies: never conform to what other people expect you to be at the sake of yourself. Elle Woods would be proud of the lasting influence she has had.