WFTB Score: 6/20
The plot: Edward Lewis’ adventures in Beverly Hills find him relying on hooker Vivian to get him back to his hotel; he invites her up to his penthouse suite and likes her so much that he promptly buys her for the week. As Edward shows Vivian an alien world of luxury and culture, her captivating beauty and free-spirited attitude inspire the ruthless businessman to re-evaluate his own priorities, much to the distress of his suspicious lawyer.
Who’d want to be Edward Lewis (Richard Gere)? Sure, he’s made so much money buying and breaking up companies that he can do anything he likes, including borrowing the fancy sports car belonging to lawyer friend Phil (Jason Alexander). But he’s so busy working that he couldn’t sustain a marriage and all his girlfriends end up just talking to his secretary; and neither has he learnt to drive very well, since he has to stop on the street where bright-but-struggling hooker Vivian (Julia Roberts) is plying her trade, having been lured to the city by friend Kit (Laura San Giacomo).
Vivian takes Edward back to his hotel and he pays for her to stay the night, though for Edward it’s not just about the sex; indeed, he finds Vivian so interesting that he strikes a bargain the next morning: $3,000 for a whole week of her company. With the help of initially hostile hotel manager Barney (Hector Elizondo) and Edward’s credit card, Vivian gains the threads and some of the skills she needs to pass muster in the businessman’s universe, whilst Edward opens his soul to her about his past and starts to wonder whether getting rich(er) at the expense of nice old men like James Morse (Ralph Bellamy) is anything to be proud of.
But just when the relationship looks to be developing from business-only to something more personal, Edward reveals Vivian’s profession to Phil, giving the sleazy attorney exactly the wrong idea and causing Vivian to reject Edward’s proposal to become his plaything on a more permanent basis.
Pretty Woman obviously believes that it’s telling a modern-day fairytale, with Gere as Prince Charming and Roberts as Cinderella, or Gere as Rex Harrison and Roberts as Audrey Hepburn. The problem is, no matter how posh you make the hotel, how beautiful you make the suits and dresses, or how clean and tender you make the love-making, the fact remains that Edward pays Vivian to do whatever he wants, including having sex, even if that sits alongside all the sparkly guff such as Vivian instantly adoring Italian opera.
You may conclude that this makes Vivian’s ‘rescue’ all the more wonderful, or you may believe – as I do – that it makes the whole premise grubby and a little sick-making. In keeping with its late eighties provenance, Pretty Woman proves once and for all that money can buy you love, and no amount of Vivian’s improving effect on poor little millionaire Edward (he fell out with his daddy – aah!) makes this any more palatable. Besides, Roberts looks ill-at-ease in her get-up at the start of the film and as soon as she sheds her tarty garb, she never looks nor acts remotely like a prostitute from that point on.
While I have no doubt that there are beautiful and classy prostitutes in the world, I doubt very much that many of the healthier ones operate directly on the streets of Los Angeles. Certainly no happy hookers lived by me when I happened to live near a particularly naughty street some time ago – they all looked miserable and desperately unsexy*.
So what is it that people see in the movie? If you choose to overlook the whole prostitution thing, Pretty Woman can be viewed as a traditional romantic comedy, though it’s not particularly funny – it certainly lacks Pygmalion’s satirical edge – and is hardly much more romantic, with Gere putting in a traditionally self-satisfied, low-energy turn (his conflict and torment is demonstrated by a barefoot walk in the park). Fortunately, Roberts is always a graceful screen presence and even if she can’t fire Gere up with a great deal of passion, her relationship with Hector Elizondo’s Mr Thompson is sweet – she makes the whole thing more watchable than it deserves.
Otherwise, the film will mainly appeal if you like looking at fine things such as jewellery, penthouse suites and beautiful fashion on handsome Hollywood stars; but two hours of such shallow entertainment should severely test your patience if you have any discernment. For make no mistake, the film is long, without much in the way of action: I’ve seen about half of it a couple of times previously and had mis-remembered the end of the movie as having a dramatic chase (perhaps I had it confused with Runaway Bride); but no, after her week is up Vivian goes home for about five minutes before Mr Moneybags, still loaded but now making things, turns up to prove his love by conquering his fear of heights. Well, he climbs up a fire escape. Oh, the excitement!
I may well be missing something vitally important, but I can’t see the draw of Pretty Woman to viewers of any age or gender. Sure, there’s an echo of the Cinder-beeping-ella** tale here, but Cinderella had no choice about her position, whereas Vivian has made her own decisions and just happens to strike lucky. As I see it, Marshall’s movie is an open invitation to rich businessmen to try their luck with prostitutes (and vice versa), just in case one of them ends up being a diamond in the rough. If that’s the sort of fairytale you want, then you’re welcome to it: I want no part of it, thanks all the same.
NOTES: 1Admittedly, the street in question was in Birmingham, not LA.
2I’m rambling now, I know, but this is the really depressing thing: some women look at Pretty Woman like it’s a magical fairytale, when in fact it’s a sad male fantasy that given a good scrub, prostitutes look and act like film stars.