How Reese Witherspoon Got Me Through My Twenties

How Reese Witherspoon Got Me Through My Twenties

We all have our favorite films. You know, the films that we watch over and over and still manage not to get bored with? This is just human nature to find comfort in the familiar. For me, the films that I watch over and over tend to be inspiring in some way. They are the films with underdogs that by the end of the film have accomplished something difficult.

In particular, I love Reese Witherspoon films! She’s pretty enough to be believable as a bombshell, but not so pretty that she makes you feel insecure. Her face is like a heart, she has a rectangular toothy smile and she’s not tall and lanky. She doesn’t really fit the profile, but yet, she does.

In general, Reese Witherspoon films can be called corny “chick flicks”, but there is something else going on, too. She creates these lovable characters that we care about and that’s one sign of a good story with good acting. Even if her characters aren’t one hundred percent believable, we can still find merit.

The films that have most impacted my life are Legally Blonde and Sweet Home Alabama. I also love Freeway but it’s like comparing apples and oranges here. It’s very dark and in a different genre.  Unless you need the courage to attack an abuser, let’s save this one for another day!

Legally Blonde–More Than Just the Hair

The film, Legally Blonde, is one of the most important films in my life. Released in 2001, I have seen it at least one hundred times over the past twenty years. As far as Reese Witherspoon films go, it may not be the most critically acclaimed, but it definitely is her most famous. The film has basic themes such as relationships, friendships, and university life, nothing too out of the ordinary. So why has it had such an impact on me?

The most important theme in the film is how it’s possible to do the impossible with tenacity and perseverance. This is something my grandmother tried to teach me as well, but I guess it took a film to really bring it home. Reese’s character, Elle Woods, is a fashion major that gets into Harvard Law School, one of the most prestigious universities in the world. It may seem far-fetched, and it is, but it is still inspiring as hell.

Relationship themes are very common in films, and this is not an exception. Elle gets dumped after graduation and is completely distraught. She had placed all of her hopes and dreams in the hands of a man. And when he pulls away, she is left with no future. Or so she thinks. Obviously, the film shows us how to pick up the pieces and move forward. Not all of us end up going to Harvard, but if she can do it, why can’t we?

Friendships are important in life and this in this film as well. Elle leaves behind her buddies back home in California when she heads to the East Coast, keeping in touch, of course. Fortunately, she meets Paulette, an aging nail tech with low self-esteem. Elle is just what Paulette needs to take control of her life and get her dog back from her low-life ex. This brings to mind the famous scene with Paulette’s ex, during which Elle acts as her attorney and nudges Paulette enough to say, “I’m takin’ the dog, dumb ass!” Elle also points out to Paulette that the UPS guy is interested romantically, and as she regains confidence, her life seems to fall into place.

Elle’s development as a serious student is the most inspiring aspect of the film. She starts out confused and oblivious. Her only reason for being there is to get back together with the man that dumped her. In the meantime, she starts to like the study of law.  In the end, she ends up valedictorian with job offers. That’s pretty amazing!

So how did this particular film get me through my twenties? Anytime I felt overwhelmed or deflated all I had to do was put the film on, order a pizza and enjoy. I realized that the film was, for me, what I term “positive procrastination”. What I mean is, when I needed a distraction from the burdens of my twenties, which was a full-time university, part-time teaching, and motherhood, I could rely on this film to make me feel better. I needed to put everything else to the side and take a pause from the piled up assignments so that I could get my bearings and move forward.

Many times, I felt depressed and useless, like I couldn’t go on another day. Somehow Reese’s character, Elle, resonated with that feeling because I saw her struggle with the same things and overcome them. She is ostracized and she gets through it, she feels stupid, she proves she’s not, she loses faith in herself, she gets it back. This is exactly what I needed to see in many instances in my twenties when I was filled with self-doubt.

After all is said and done, the movie inspires me to be myself no matter what. During the film, Elle is pressured to conform, but she never does. She is who she is, and I admire that. In the end, she rejects that same man she chased all the way to Harvard. Unfortunately, she does end up with a guy, which I find unnecessary, but that’s Hollywood! A perfect ending would have been without a man to “complete her”, but that’s another story!

Sweet Home Alabama—Do Soul Mates Exist?

Sweet Home Alabama, released in 2002, is my second-favorite Reese Witherspoon film. It doesn’t compare to Legally Blonde in terms of impact, but it does deserve an honorable mention, at least. Again, Reese’s character, named Melanie this time, is cute and likable. The story is heartwarming and inspiring. The love story is sweet and unexpected.

This film has similar themes as Legally Blonde, such as friendship and love. But unlike the former, this film has a theme about leaving the small town behind to make it in a big city. In fact, Melanie has done this, she’s a famous fashion designer. When she returns to “sweet home Alabama”, for a divorce, she finds the place just as she left it, well almost.

This central theme of big city versus small town was something I have struggled with for as long as I can remember. In my twenties, I dreamed about getting out of my hometown and making it big. For those of us with big plans, Melanie can be a serious inspiration.

Melanie wants to marry the NYC Mayor’s son. In order to do this, she must divorce her first husband. This is where the love story comes in. Although, those of us with enough sense can realize it’s a bit unrealistic to assume that she will leave her life as a famous fashion designer, a life she worked so hard to acquire, and return to her roots after leaving them in the first place.

The idea of a soul mate is something we all want to believe in and in my twenties, I was no different. From the time we are young, we are bombarded with stories of true love, soul mates and finding prince charming. Deep down inside, we all search for this perfect human connection. This is what makes the film so impressionable. You see this woman, who fled her small-town existence, come back and reconnect with her first love and you believe this could happen for you, too, if it hasn’t already. At least, you get a few butterflies and shivers in your spine. In reality, this rarely happens for the majority of us, and that’s fine, too. But the sentiment is still uplifting, especially for an idealistic twenty-two-year-old!

Reese’s character, Melanie, will always be a part of me. She showed me the way because she left her small-town, she thought she was better than everyone there, but in the end, she had to admit to herself that she belongs there just as much as in the big city. The movie line that sums this up perfectly is “you can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl.” I couldn’t say it better myself. I had to admit this as well. No matter where I go, my heart is home and that’s okay. I don’t have to pretend to be someone I am not. I think it’s important to figure that out in life.

Getting through your twenties is difficult. It’s the time of self-doubt- people still don’t take you seriously, and the younger you look, the more irrelevant you can feel. Fortunately for me, I had Reese Witherspoon to help guide me. And this was what saved me and gave me hope more times than I can count. Thank you, Reese!

What movies or actors have positively impacted your life?

Yours Truly,


About The Author…

Erin is a travel-loving friendly introvert that lives in Europe. She has an undergraduate degree in Russian Studies from Grand Valley State University and a Master of Arts in Russian Literature and Language from SUNY at Albany. Originally from Michigan, she now spends most of her year in Switzerland. She loves art, history, art history, music, cats, vegan food, and speaking out about injustices. She has three adorable children and one feisty feline. Erin joined the team at The Quiet Nonsense to get reacquainted with technology and gain editing and writing experience. Someday she would like to start her own blog or do professional editing.

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Photo Credit: Jess Graphic Credit: Mica

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