Genre: Romantic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 59 min.
Release Date: March 23rd, 1990 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Garry Marshall Actors: Richard Gere, Julia Roberts, Ralph Bellamy, Jason Alexander, Laura San Giacomo, Alex Hyde-White, Amy Yasbeck, Elinor Donahue, Hector Elizondo, Judith Baldwin
ssentially a Cinderella story for adults, “Pretty Woman” is a female-centric comedy with just enough appeal for men that it transcends the stereotypical chick-flick restrictiveness. Julia Roberts and Richard Gere show inarguably perfect chemistry, while the many supporting roles lend to an overall solid film, further fueled by an unforgettable theme song (one of the most fitting of any in cinema) and scads of laughs. It’s an out-and-out fantasy, with many events appearing horribly unlikely, but the suspension of disbelief is largely convincing. And a plethora of famous moments makes “Pretty Woman” a staple of romantic filmmaking.
Vivian (Julia Roberts) is one of the many women struggling to make a living in Hollywood, ultimately resorting to prostitution to make ends meet. Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) is an uncommonly wealthy businessman who can’t seem to stay in a meaningful relationship. When Lewis cruises around town to collect his thoughts, he haphazardly picks up Vivian and whisks her back to his luxurious penthouse.
Edward isn’t altogether certain how to behave around a hooker, and neither is his lawyer Philip Stuckey (Jason Alexander), who immediately notices the carefree change in his associate’s attitude. Edward propositions Vivian to stay with him for one week before he leaves California, requiring that she accompany him to various business gatherings that might call for a gorgeous date. She accepts, initially tempted by his money – and decidedly going against her practices of not getting emotionally involved with a client – though Vivian soon discovers that she’s falling in love and that the feeling is undividedly mutual.
“Pretty Woman” is one of the most popular romantic comedies of all time, thanks primarily to the undeniably genuine rapport between the two lead characters. Most of it is blissfully natural and fantastically ideal (although conflict does edge its way into the picture), which increases the permeating fairy tale feel of the entire premise. Without money (and looks), Edward wouldn’t be able to win the girl – who, conveniently, is the nicest, most playful, cleanest, and un-whorish strumpet ever to stroll through Los Angeles. The labored coincidences make for lighthearted fun, transitioning to – and saturating – even the more tragic realities, which are never fully or realistically realized.
“Pretty Woman” contains countless scenes that work exceedingly well as models for romanticism, redemption, retribution, and courage, making its iconic pieces just as celebrated as the whole. There’s the kindhearted hotel manager (Hector Elizondo) who comes to the rescue when upper-class saleswomen refuse Vivian service (perhaps the most emotionally triumphant sequence); a dreamy ride in a sports car that corners like it’s on rails; the snapping shut of a necklace case that catches Julia Roberts in unscripted surprise; and a dinner utensil lesson that doesn’t go according to plan. Appreciating the finer things in life, Vivian also gets to enjoy the opera (which is purposefully “La Traviata,” a story about a harlot who falls in love with a wealthy man), frolic in a bubblebath, and notoriously utilize a body double to save Roberts from showing any skin. The result is an unequalled exercise in modern, mature romance, which would garner Roberts a Best Actress Academy Award nomination and a lengthy streak of box office stardom. (Be sure to avoid any version that’s not the theatrical cut, as the later re-release edits are not only slower, but also add in scenes that paint the characters to be drastically less appealing.)
– Mike Massie