Friday, May 21, 2010

When the Arc Belongs to Someone Else

I’m too old to have a child graduating from anything, and too young for a grandchild to be graduating, unless you can count kindergarten. But with all the talk from my friends on Facebook who are celebrating graduations around the nation, I've decided to honor that tradition today.

Not coming into this prepared, and if I had I’m sure the world would implode, I thought I’d write about the first movie I could think of that had a graduation scene in it. Legally Blonde popped into my head. My apologies.

Actually, Legally Blonde is a great study on character arc, but not necessarily from the heroine’s point of view. Sure, Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) starts out as a sorority queen acting like the stereotypically self-absorbed dumb blonde. But as the movie progresses, her true colors, predominantly pink, shine forth and we see her as an intelligent, caring, beautiful woman on the inside. She shatters the dumb blonde myth, but I don’t see this as an arc. Elle is pretty much the same from start to finish, we just see deeper layers throughout the film.

But her arch enemy, Vivian Kennsington. Ah, now there’s an arc.

Elle decides to attend Harvard Law so she can win back her boyfriend/lizard, Warner Huntington III (Matthew Davis.) But, she finds out he has a new love interest, Vivian, (played by Selma Blair,) a vile brunette dressed in even viler dark clothes. She torments Elle throughout much of the second act. But slowly, she begins to soften as Elle wins her over.

The turning point for Vivian is when she sees Warner for who he truly is. This happens during the trial for which they are all interning under their professor (Victor Garber.) Warner shows no compassion and says something stupid about Elle. From this moment on, Vivian wears her hair softer and the stark black clothes are replaced with lighter colors. She then befriends Elle.

Vivian even has a black moment when she thinks Elle is sleeping her way to the top. A half-heard conversation between Elle and their professor/jerk creates a misunderstanding, and she believes once again that Elle is simply a blonde bimbo whose beauty puts her at the head of the class. This, our astute imaginations have figured out, is something that has happened often in Vivian’s lifetime, and why she was so antagonistic toward Elle in the first place.

Her ah-ha moment comes toward the end where she sees she had misjudged Elle, and they are once again not only friends—but friends for life.

Why does this movie work without a strong character arc for the main character? Perhaps it’s her over-the-top personality. Or maybe it is that Vivian, a secondary character, takes up that slack. I don’t know, but it’s worth studying if you have a storyline where the main character doesn’t change much throughout.

Check out the fun quotes from the movie!


denise said...

I, too, have noticed that the hero/heroine is not always the one that changes, but the ally, or even the villain. Some have said that in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it is Samwise Gamgee, the ally, who changes, not the hero Frodo. An interesting observation. Informative post, Kathy.

Kathy Kovach... said...

Thanks, Denise! The more I learn about character arc, the closer I look at all the players. I strive to write well enough to someday break a few rules.