Rom-Com Review: "Pretty Woman"

Photo Credit: Buena Vista Pictures

Rating: R
Length: 119 Minutes
Release Date: March 23, 1990
Directed by: Gary Marshall
Genre: Comedy / Romance

"Pretty Woman" is the story of a jaded, emotionally damaged and wildly successful businessman who meets a Hollywood prostitute who is a lot more than meets the eye. Predictably, the two characters fall in love.

Hollywood heartthrob Richard Gere plays Edward Lewis. Edward is a ruthless businessman who builds his wealth taking over companies in financial trouble and selling off the pieces. Julia Roberts cemented her status as America's sweetheart playing Vivian Ward. Vivian is a young Hollywood transplant who is smart, ambitious and unashamed of her current role as a prostitute to make ends meet. The couple has a meet-cute on Vivian's Hollywood Boulevard street corner when Edward stops for directions to his Beverly Hills hotel in his friend's borrowed sports car. Vivian offers to take him there for a fee, and along the way they discover that they get along well. Once at the hotel, Edward invites Vivian up to his room for a talk. He enjoys her company so much that the newly single Edward invites Vivian to stay with him. The one catch is that Vivian has to pretend to be his girlfriend for a week.

The storyline that director Marshall chose for the film required a very delicate balancing act between being realistic and a modern-day fairytale. "Pretty Woman" is basically a Cinderella story about a young woman who deserves a better life than the one she has. She is swept off her feet and away from all of the things holding her back by a rather unlikely knight in shining armor. In Marshall's film, the woman in question just happens to be working as a prostitute.

Vivian's profession is never kept a secret or toned down for audiences. One major plot point of the film is that no one in Edward's world knows what Vivian does for a living, including his friend and business associate, Philip Stuckey (Jason Alexander). Edward eventually tells Stuckey to keep him from investigating Vivian as a potential corporate spy. Stuckey then attempts to solicit sex from Vivian, and this causes a rift between both characters and Edward. The audience knows that Vivian is a prostitute, and it is apparent that the people outside of her small circle of friends, including fellow prostitute and roommate Kit (Laura San Giacomo), attach a stigma to people in her line of work. However, Vivian is so charming that audiences can't help but like her.

It's a testament to Roberts's acting abilities and the screenwriters that audiences easily accept Vivian's profession without holding it against her. Creating well-rounded characters who are more than their chosen professions allows audience members a way to connect. Choosing to focus on the potential romance that develops throughout the film allowed Marshall to create a movie that is entertaining and uplifting rather than heavy and exploitative.

"Pretty Woman" owes a large part of its likability to a very audience-friendly cast and excellent character development. Part of what makes Vivian and Edward so likable is that they are flawed human beings trying to do the best they can while attempting to protect themselves from emotional pain. Edward protects himself by keeping an emotional distance from people, while Vivian protects herself by not kissing clients, emotionally detaching herself from her work. As the storyline progresses, Vivian and Edward use their strengths to override each other's weaknesses.

Vivian and Edward are more victims of their circumstances who find healing and comfort with each other rather than two characters who knowingly chose the lives they have ended up leading. The outstanding cast of supporting characters, including hotel manager Barney Thompson (Hector Elizondo), help to further develop the main characters. These characters reinforce the element of realism in an otherwise fairytale fantasy relationship. The choice to film on location in Los Angeles and the use of highly recognizable locations around the city also helps to ground the film in reality, making this unlikely romance accessible to audiences.

"Pretty Woman" runs along an easily predictable storyline that is so endearing and so enjoyable that audiences forget that it's basically a story that's been told before wrapped in different packaging. Marshall's romantic comedy pulls audiences along for the ride, easily eliciting the expected emotional responses from viewers in an almost effortless manner. The film is light, fun and completely enjoyable for audiences while providing just enough substance to keep viewers fully engaged in the storyline. Rather than just being a movie, "Pretty Woman" gives viewers an experience that is so wonderfully fun and romantic, it's worth repeating.