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Pretty Woman (DVD)
Member Name: MALU
Pretty Woman (DVD)
Date: 26/06/12, updated on 19/05/13 (126 review reads)
Advantages: Julia Roberts, music
Disadvantages: disturbing message
I watched the film in the early 1990s when it was released. I remember that I enjoyed it and I also remember that I didn't think one profound thought about it. Last week I watched it again and since then have thought many profound thoughts about it. It was an assignment for a seminar at uni I attend with the title 'Pygmalion: The Reception of Ovid's Myth in Drama, Narrative Fiction, and Film'. I was surprised to see this film title on the schedule but know now that it makes perfect sense to include it. But the Greek myth of Ovid and Galatea is not the only layer the film has, there's more to it. Its multilayeredness and ambiguity together with the charisma of the actors may be responsible for its huge success which surprised the Hollywood production company Touchstone Pictures and director Garry Marshall.
Edward Lewis (Richardf Gere) is a stinking rich businessman whose speciality is to buy firms on their way down to bankruptcy for cheap money, cut them into small sections and sell them off at a high price. Once when in LA for business he gets lost and asks a young woman, Vivian Ward, (Julia Roberts) for directions. He's so absorbed in the car he doesn't know how to drive that he doesn't notice at first that she's a hooker. When he realises it, he engages her for one night to keep him company in the penthouse suite of a posh hotel and then for a whole week. He gets an attractive companion he can show off with at social meetings and she 3000 $, a good deal for both. How the relationship develops and changes the two people is the content of the story.
The general plot line is predictable because Pretty Woman belongs to the genre of RomComs which has a long history in Hollywood. I think every film buff knows American screwball comedies which usually contain two interrelated topics, namely the taming of a recalcitrant or frivolous woman through an attractive and humorous man but also the reverse situation. The man, too fixed on job and career falls in love with an 'easier', fun-loving woman who helps him break out of his shell and enjoy life. Katherine Hepburn comes to mind with various attractive partners. But I must admit that on the humour scale Pretty Woman is not top notch, script writer J.F. Lawton doesn't have witty one-liners flying to and fro all the time. An occasional smile is all I can work up.
A reason may be that Vivian is no real partner for Edward, neither socially nor intellectually. It's easy to understand why feminists have been against the core message of the film. Vivian in herself is nothing, she only becomes a partner for Edward through his doings. Like Pygmalion he molds the object of his desires after his wishes and only when she's passed the exam so-to-speak, something serious can develop. He does this with the help of his credit card which some critics see as a phallic symbol (a bit far-fetched in my opinion). But he's got the money = power, there's no denying that by accepting both, Vivian becomes his dependant servant. Even if she goes back to college and works on her education as she plans to do in the future, she'll never be on a par with the man. Having licked blood (i.e., tasted the good life) she can't go back to her own people, either. This means she'll be an outsider for the rest of her life. "Happily ever after"? I'm not so sure. Just try to imagine a sequel and you'll realise that something is rotten here.
Edward is only interested in enhancing Vivian's outward appearance, unlike Higgins in Shaw's Pygmalion he isn't interested in educating her or too insensitive to see that she wants help. She decides herself that she needs a guiding hand in order not to put her foot in too much and turns to Barney (Héctor Elizondo), the hotel manager. He's the first man who takes her seriously and doesn't patronise her. Elizondo plays the character convincingly. We can assume that Barney hasn't only worked in posh establishments as a hotel manager and thus has accumulated a profound knowledge of humankind.
With this he stands in stark contrast to Edward who doesn't know the people whose lives he destroys and doesn't care. If the kill is quick and rewarding, he's happy. Richard Gere is good in this rôle, I even find him a bit too good as the cold fish. I remember an Italian student who visited us once and when a film with this actor was on TV, sat glued to the box. I mocked her and said, "Gere obviously has the certain something". She turned to me with glowing cheeks and said, "He's got the certain everything." I used to think that he was quite Ok but was never a fan of his. Maybe because I've watched the film more critically now I think that his acting ability in Pretty Woman leaves a lot to be desired. Although he develops feelings for Vivian, discovers that he's got a human heart after all and can even feel sympathy for a business partner, he acts and looks more or less the same all the time. It's clear that Mr Morse (Ralph Bellamy) whose firm he wants to buy, dissemble and sell is an ersatz father for him. Some kind of emotion would be adequate when he finally realises this, but we don't get any from Richard Gere.
We get more from Julia Roberts. The way the hooker is sashaying up and down the sidewalk on her long legs is unforgettable. She looks like a giraffe gliding through the savannah. Her long legs (3.60 ft each) are later put to therapeutic use in a famous bath tub scene which is one of the funny moments of the film. Of course, dressed up in the most expensive clothes and jewellery, Julia Roberts is also impressive. But it's not only the outfit that changes, Vivian changes as well. Not without problems thanks to Edward's insensitivity. We can understand that watching the actress, her body language (no more long, giraffe-like steps, more short, lady-like ones) and her facial expressions which is the way it should be. In my opinion she far outshines Richard Gere. I can imagine several other actors in the rôle of Edward Lewis but no other actress fitting the shoes of this Cindarella as well as Julia Roberts does.
The topic of prostitution must be mentioned as well. The title of the film could also have been Happy Hooker. If it weren't for Vivian's flatmate (Kit de Luca) who offers a glimpse into a life with pimps and drugs, we might think that being a hooker isn't so bad after all. As if finding a fairy tale prince were a realistic option for a 'pretty woman walking down the street'!
All things considered I'm of the opinion that in this film a well made, shiny surface covers a disturbing message. If it weren't for Julia Roberts, the song Pretty Woman by Roy Orbison and Gerry Marshall's jaunty directing, three stars would be enough. If you think I'm making too much of a harmless, little film, let me tell you that subtle messages can have as much impact as ones transmitted with a sledgehammer.
Summary: the famous film under the microscope