New Comedy, New Woman

 

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.

 

 

https://youtu.be/i_FKP-rjhh4

 

 

Bibliography

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].

 

 

4 comments

  1. Excellent read and such a good example for the readings this week! I think when discussing the comedy of remarriage there is one scene that stands out to me and that is Warner attempting to rekindle his relationship with Elle only when she has won the court case and presented herself as now an intellectual equal rather than a “dumb blonde”. In this moment Elle has the opportunity of remarriage but only when she is deemed worthy, and throughout the process Elle has discovered that this is not an equal union or marriage, so in response she denies Warner’s “proposal”, instead reversing the roles through the crushing sentiment, “If I am to be in a respectable law firm by the time I am thirty then I am going to need a boyfriend who isn’t such a complete bonehead”. This full circle moment is a great example of “the development of consciousness” which you discussed in your blog post, and the empowerment of Elle to progress with Emmett rather than regress with Warner.

  2. Love this example, but I think that the feminist empowerment aspect of Elle’s character is more difficult when you really outline it on paper… her becoming a “better lawyer” does lead her to realising she does not need Warner to feel happy in life. However, we find out later that Elle got the position because her professor wanted to sleep with her. Additionally, the reason she is able to win the final case is because of her knowledge of perms, not of law. I just thought it was important to point out the film’s flaws in being labeled a feminist empowerment piece, but still love and agree with what you’ve said!

  3. Thank you so much for including one of the greatest chick flicks of all time! Although I enjoyed the way you complimented Frye’s description of new comedy, I feel like your claim that “the film follows a girl overcoming her own obstacles [lack of seriousness] to rise above her station for a man,” along with Alexis’s point about how she wins the case “because of her knowledge of perms, not of law” possibly diminishes the central message of the film: That being hyperfeminine (or knowledgeable about beauty and traditionally feminine activities) isn’t an obstacle but a strength.

  4. You make a great point here about how Legally Blonde both subverts and adheres to Cavell’s ideas about ‘New Comedy.’ I think this contrast is rooted in the film’s Postfeminist ideals – the theory that feminism has achieved its goal, and women can empower themselves through capitalism. Although Elle has a redeeming narrative arc (realizing that Warner is an arse, Law is her true calling, and figuring that women shouldn’t be competing against each-other) ultimately the upcoming proposal from Emmett reinforces hetero-normative gender roles as her happy ending will be secured by marrying the REAL man of her dreams.

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