Upon reading Frye’s description of New Comedy and trying to think of films that illustrate it both interestingly and well, I thought of the film Legally Blonde (Luketic, 2001). Frye’s description explains a basic premise of a man outwitting some opponent or obstacle and gaining possession of a girl whom he has raised up from some lower standing. The hero’s journey will be impeded throughout and as Frye explains modern writers often bring the hero as close to a tragic unfolding of events as possible before resolving them and allowing the heroic journey to progress. The resolution of the film is usually some kind of event which is a resolution both of character and societal norms, involving most characters from the plot coming together, where the individual has been freed from a humorous society and society is made freer and therefore more accommodating to a variety of individuals. This resolution generally cultivates in some kind of wedding or event. (Frye, 1949)
Legally Blonde is a film which both subverts and aligns itself with this idea of a New Comedy. It follows the story of Elle, at first presented as the archetypal ‘dumb blonde’ character, who is expecting a comfortable life with her soon to be lawyer boyfriend. However, when her boyfriend leaves her, she makes great effort to join him at law school to prove she too can be serious, eventually discovering that she enjoys the subject and doesn’t need a man to make her life for her. In this way the film clashes but also goes along with the description of New Comedy, instead of the narrative following a man overcoming obstacles to secure a girl risen up from her station, the film follows a girl overcoming her own obstacles to rise above her station for a man.
The film becomes the story of a woman empowered as Elle becomes a better and better lawyer, the film could be argued to hint at being a comedy of remarriage as it explores ideas around “a development in the consciousness women hold of themselves as this is developed in its relation to the consciousness men hold of them” (Cavell, 1981, p. 17) however the way in which the film realigns itself with a new comedy, is the same way in which it distances itself from a comedy of remarriage that Cavell describes.
The film ends in a graduation ceremony with Elle giving a speech having been made valedictorian, this ceremony is the exact kind of culmination that Frye describes featuring many characters from the plot and returns to social norms. Elle, having been reborn as a successful academic, eventually is proposed to by a man she meets at Law school and this way the “normal” is restored. This is not a remarriage as the pair were not together to begin with, nor is it exactly the plot of a new comedy as it is the girl winning the guy without her struggle to do so being depicted but it is interesting how the film and the events depicted fit into certain forms of the description.
Cavell, S. (1981). Pursuits of happiness: the Hollywood comedy of remarriage. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
Frye, N. (1949). The Argument of Comedy. English Institute Essays, 58-73.
Luketic, R. (Director). (2001). Legally Blonde [Motion Picture].