Just last week, Antonin Scalia, in his bizarre, rambling and charmingly homophobic dissenting opinion in the Lawrence v. Texas case, wrote: "State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality and obscenity are likewise sustainable only in light of Bowers validation of laws based on moral choices."
Umm, dude? Masturbation is not, like, a serious moral choice, and being moral doesn't mean being a loveless scold.
Nor does it mean doing horrible things in the name of some greater good. What cop movie doesn't feature a police officer lying to and intimidating a suspect in order to get a confession? What political thriller doesn't feature the hero getting the upper hand on some no-goodnik by blackmailing him? What romantic comedy doesn't feature David Spade or Meg Ryan?
Which makes Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde one of the most exceptional films I have ever seen. Now, it's not a good movie. The first half is dull and somewhat disconnected, there aren't nearly enough laughs, and even Reese Witherspoon's acting, which is usually top notch, is a bit off.
No, what makes it such an interesting film is that the character Reese Witherspoon plays is actually a good person--not "good when it serves her purposes," not "moralizing and upbraiding," not "willing to do whatever it takes to achieve her goals." She's actually good. She's nice, kind, considerate, never has anything bad to say about or to anyone, and doesn't believe that the ends justify the means. She's basically a Frank Capra hero in some Phyllis Diller version of a Doris Day skirt-and-jacket combo.
For those who missed Legally Blonde 1: Cuffs and Collars, or whatever it was called, Elle Woods is a recent Harvard Law grad who is also a shopping-obsessed sorority sister. She smiles almost ceaselessly, wears matching pink outfits that look like they were designed by Isaac Mizrahi's younger, gayer brother, and basically makes Katie Couric seem like a cynical, Dadaist terrorist.
At the start of Legally Blonde 2, she learns that her Chihuahua's mother is being held in a lab that tests cosmetic products on, well, Chihuahuas. Elle decides to head to Washington, D.C., in order to pass legislation banning the testing of cosmetic products on animals.
In creating a character of pure goodness, the writers (Eve Ahlert, Dennis Drake and Kate Kondell--sadly, the more talented team of Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, who did the first movie, weren't available this time) have picked the perfect issue. I can't imagine anyone besides Saddam Hussein or Adolf Hitler being in favor of torturing cute little pony-kittens in order to improve the shimmeressence of our shampoo.
It's not the issue of animal testing, though, that makes Elle so morally commendable. It's how she goes about promoting and furthering her issue that sets her apart. When she arrives in Washington, the bitter and catty congressional aides with whom she is to work treat her with derision, making fun of her perkiness and love of color coordination. She responds by trying to find positive things to say about them. When they refuse to help her and she accomplishes her goal without them, she still gives them credit, because she doesn't want them to look bad in front of their boss.
When that boss then turns on her, Elle is distraught, but not so much so that she'll engage in less-than-principled behavior. In fact, Elle has the chance to get a congresswoman to vote in her favor by threatening to reveal a secret, but Elle refuses to do so because she believes that blackmail is wrong. This is beyond bizarre in today's cinema: Blackmail is generally considered good form among contemporary movie heroes. What super-cop or crusader or leading lover wouldn't use a little blackmail to get what he or she wanted?
While the movie has a lot of flaws, Elle Woods' goodness kind of makes it work--not as a comedy, because for that, it would have to be funny. Rather, it works kind of like Frank Capra's films used to work: You just can't help feeling a deep moral sympathy for the lead character. If Elle Woods can get her bill passed without ever stooping to the shady gamesmanship of the D.C. insiders, then the world isn't quite as horrible as our newspapers, reality shows and McDonaldland Happy Meals would lead us to believe.