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Pretty Woman

1990 romantic comedy film starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere

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Pretty Woman: A Dangerous Modern Day Fairy Tale

  • Dec 22, 2003
  • by
Pros: fun, escapist, Julia Roberts

Cons: such a bad message!

The Bottom Line: Look how fun it is to be a hooker!

Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie''s plot.

It's down to me
The way she talks when she's spoken to
Down to me, the change has come
She's under my thumb
- The Rolling Stones

I’m not a raging feminist. In fact, I like “Under My Thumb” because it’s so comically misogynistic. Pretty Woman, on the other hand, takes things too far, romanticizing the life of a prostitute and implying that all women dream of being rescued by a rich man.

Some might say that Pretty Woman sets the women’s movement back twenty years. In fact, as a self-described modern fairy tale, it destroys all of the progress made since Cinderella and Rapunzel. By portraying itself as a fantasy story, this film thinks it can get away with glamorizing the life of call girls, but I found several of the choices offensive, irresponsible, and even dangerous.

The most disappointing thing about Pretty Woman is that it starts out so well. Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts) sneaks out of her squalid flat via the fire escape to avoid her landlord, who is evicting tenants who haven’t paid their rent. On her way to a local bar, Vivian happens upon a crime scene where a fellow hooker has been murdered, an all-too-common occurrence in that line of work. At the bar, she confronts her roommate Kit (Laura San Giacomo, Just Shoot Me) about where their rent money has gone. Like most prostitutes, Kit has succumbed to the lure of drugs, despite the fact that she looks perfectly healthy.

As she advertises her wares on Hollywood Boulevard, Vivian’s luck changes when Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) stops to ask her for directions to the uber-posh Beverly Wiltshire Hotel. She charges him $10 for the information, eventually bargaining him to $20 to personally guide him there. Edward is unable to successfully shift gears in his borrowed sports car, so Vivian makes him pull over so she can take the wheel. Emphasizing the phallic symbolism further, Vivian grabs Edward’s crotch while she’s in the driver’s seat. Back at the hotel, Vivian presents an array of condoms, announcing, “I’m a safety girl.” So far, so good.

However, things take a turn for the worse when Vivian gets down on her knees and tells Edward that she will do anything he wants her to. I got the impression that she doesn’t use any of the protection she has brought. Edward later follows Vivian into the bathroom thinking that she is doing drugs (she’s actually flossing her teeth), and, from this moment on, he owns her completely. Edward initially pays Vivian for $300 to spend the night with him, but when his lawyer Phil Stuckey (Jason Alexander, best known as George Costanza on Seinfeld) encourages him to bring a date to business functions, Edward hires Vivian as his “employee” for $3000 for a whole week.

In other words, Pretty Woman shows us that, apparently, money can buy love. Really, there is nothing to like about Edward Lewis other than his body and his wallet. Despite the fact that he initially stops on Hollywood Blvd simply to ask for directions, there is no denying that Edward is the type of man who hires prostitutes. His business practices are also somewhat dodgy, as he buys struggling businesses and then sells them off piece by piece, a process similar to stealing cars, as Vivian points out.

The businessman and the prostitute are both careful not to become emotionally involved in their work. For Vivian, that means “no kissing on the mouth,” while Edward never gets to know any of the workers whose companies he is taking over. Edward puts it succinctly: “You and I are such similar creatures, Vivian. We both screw people for money.”

Although this film is billed as a love story, Edward treats Vivian like an object that he can perfect. He drags her by the arm as they shop for “conservative” clothes, makes her learn proper table manners, and, basically, forces her to put on an act. Vivian starts out as an independent woman, but, by the end, she can’t even go shopping on her own. Edward realizes he has feelings for Vivian only when he sees her talking to a business rival at a polo match. Despite the soaring love songs in the soundtrack (Roxette!), I remained unconvinced that Edward actually loves Vivian. He wants to possess her, but I didn’t see evidence of him caring about her feelings.

Pretty Woman also teaches us that, if you are attractive and rich, you can get away with breaking the law. Prostitution is illegal in California, but no one calls the police since Edward Lewis is a very important customer at the Wiltshire. The hotel manager even goes out of his way to teach Vivian which silverware to use at dinner.

The one thing I like about this film is Julia Roberts, who is radiant. She does a phenomenal job portraying a range of emotions from euphoria to anger to fear. However, she is at her best when she expresses childish glee at living in a luxury penthouse and earning what she sees as an extraordinary amount of money. One of the most memorable scenes in Pretty Woman is Vivian singing along to Prince’s “Kiss” in a giant bubble bath. Despite her profession, Vivian is shown to be sweet and pure. Similarly, in their apartment, Kit is often shown clutching a teddy bear, emphasizing her innocence.

Richard Gere, on the other hand, is extremely subdued and wooden. For a man who flies his date to San Francisco for an evening at the opera, he sure is boring! The first time our hero expresses any type of emotion is when he goes to the hotel lounge in the middle of the night to play the piano. For trivia buffs, Richard Gere is actually playing a song that he composed himself. A truly ridiculous sex scene follows.

There are a few fun moments, and people interested in fashion can vicariously enjoy Vivian’s shopping spree. However, the rags-to-riches tale is trite and entirely lacking in suspense.

Watching Pretty Woman on TV last week, I had the following internal monologue: “Ooh, I love this movie! No, I hate this movie! I hate myself for loving this movie.”

That’s just what the Hollywood misogynists love to hear.


Viewing Format: VHS
Video Occasion: Better than Watching TV
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age

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More Pretty Woman reviews
review by . November 17, 2009
Ok, I'm going to get a little worked up on this one - I know I'm usually all Carmax and Google-loving, but I just caught an hour of this on TV last night and have been in a bad mood ever since. This shallow piece of dishonesty grossed over a half billion dollars, just so you know.      If I was female, I would detest this film even more than I do after six cups of coffee this morning. Given the number of women in the world, Hollywood would have us believe that they generally …
Quick Tip by . November 27, 2009
Its ok, my 78 yo grandmothers favourite film of all time followed a close second by breakfast at tiffanys!
review by . October 11, 2008
Pros: Roberts, Gere, Elizondo     Cons: ...     The Bottom Line:   "Nine a.m. on the hour hand   and she's waiting for the bell   and she's looking real pretty   just wait for her clientele"   ~Donna Summer         Released in 1990, Pretty Woman couldn't have picked a better time for Richard Gere and Julia Roberts to join forces for a weird take on Cinderella. They were …
review by . January 23, 2000
Pros: Sweet, funny movie     Cons: minor violence     Can a prostitute have ethics? Can a lawyer?      In Pretty Woman they can, or they can learn to. Julia Roberts plays a good hearted prostitute with a childlike sense of delight. She warms the heart of Richard Gere, a stuffy hard-hearted corporate shark.       Roberts' transformation from streetwalker to lovely lady is fun and delightful to watch. The hotel manager, …
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About this movie


Pretty Woman is a 1990 American romantic comedy film. Written by J.F. Lawton and directed by Garry Marshall, the film features Richard Gere, Julia Roberts and Hector Elizondo. Pretty Woman's plot centers on down-on-her-luck Hollywood prostitute Vivian Ward who is hired by a wealthy businessman, Edward Lewis, to be his escort for several business and social functions, and their developing relationship over the course of Vivian's week long stay with him.

Originally intended to be a dark drama about prostitution in New York, the film was reconceptualized into a romantic comedy with a broader budget. The film was a critical success and became one of 1990's highest grossing films, and today is one of the most financially successful entries in the romantic comedy genre, with an estimated gross of $464 million USD.Roberts received a Golden Globe Award for her role, and received a nomination for an Academy Award, in addition screenwriter J.F. Lawton was nominated for a Writers Guild Award and a BAFTA Award.

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