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And just like that, 1990s America fell in love with a hooker. A hooker named Julia Roberts. She had already arrived to many film-viewing women with a oft-mentioned scene in Steel Magnolias, but it was Pretty Woman that officially vaulted her to A-list status and onto the Oscar-winning trajectory to come. I’ve always avoided watching it due to the fact I’ve never been much of a Roberts fan and because, honestly, I’m a twenty-something male. I don’t wake up in the morning thinking, “This is the day I need me some Julia”. But I have to admit the fact I really enjoyed this movie. By far Garry Marshall’s crowning achievement as a director—no one tell me to go see Beaches, I’m not quite emasculated enough to sit through that one without a female companion as the cause—this romantic comedy is equal parts smart, witty, and endearing, never belittling its audience or characters. Credit there goes to writer J.F. Lawton for sure, but I’d be remiss to disregard Roberts’ piece to the puzzle. She shines, carrying it on her shoulders while flashing a toothy grin that could warm even the coldest of hearts.

There is an aspect of ‘rags-to-riches’ style, yet the film never relies on that trope for support. Instead, Pretty Woman decides not to hide behind stereotypes—although they are included—allowing this prostitute to truly be one-of-a-kind. You get this feeling right at the start, watching Roberts’ Vivian Ward berate her roomie and corner partner Kit, (where has Laura San Giacomo gone?), for the fact she snorted their rent money and still owed her dealer more. The platinum blonde wig can’t mask the kind-hearted smile or good-natured humor utilized second-naturedly; she is a small town girl caught up in the high-priced LA lifestyle, making ends meet the only way she can, quickly and without IRS paperwork. She’s the type of woman who can say something to the fact she is not only better in bed than an amateur, but also cleaner, and have the man listening believe it. And this is absolutely crucial to the success of the story because a guy like Edward Lewis would accept nothing less. The guy exhales money, buying the best no matter its ineffectiveness or alignment with his fears. He could have any woman he wants, but it’s Vivian who surprises him, and that goes a long way.

Had the film centered on her, we’d probably be shown two hours of finding inner beauty and self-esteem to rise above the streets and succeed despite only having a grade-11 education. And while we do see this, it is not for the benefit of her character alone. She is smart and in complete control of her life. No pimp owns her and no rules govern what she can or can’t do. Sex acts are a means to an end until she can hopefully find the youthful splendor drained away by a string of bum boyfriends and bad life choices. If Edward had driven away down Hollywood Blvd, deciding ten bucks for directions to Beverly Hills was too steep, Vivian would have gone right back to her Walk of Fame square and waited for the next ‘John’ to come along. She may need a catalyst to reach her potential, but Pretty Woman is more about the effect those two words can have on a man than the actual woman in question. It is Richard Gere’s Edward who needs a life-altering wake-up call to the dull, soulless existence he has inherited from his father. Excelling his whole life to get away from the shadow of that man—even buying out his business from under him as vengeance—the draw of money and success still overcame his by-the-bootstraps upbringing. He’s only now just realizing it.

The wife left him, his girlfriend is leaving him—fed up that she speaks with his secretary more than he, a common occurrence it seems with a funny retort from another ex-lover—and the job he’s worked on for the past year seems to be hitting a few hiccups. Life is unraveling and he is too numb to decide whether the personal or occupational problems are more important to fix first. So, it is a fateful sojourn on the road in his lawyer’s (Jason Alexander as his usual high-strung self with an intriguing, dark edge never seen with George Costanza) stick-shift beauty that changes his present and future forever. Miss Vivian Ward—candid, crass, (spitting the gum on Rodeo Drive is priceless), and honest above all else has enraptured his attention, giving him something he’s never had before, a real woman. Devoid of posturing or the high-class upbringing that would teach you how to fix polo divots during halftime, she is a treasure without value. She is the muse to either awaken this prince from his slumber or slam the final nail into his machine-like, unemotional existence, going from girl to girl when it suits him, treating every human being he encounters as one more acquisition to eventually be broken up and sold at auction.

It’s all about his metamorphosis, seeing his life’s strange mirroring to that of a call girl. They both screw people for money and go home to sleep like babies after, free of guilt. But there has to be more to it than that. Vivian catches on quickly, letting Edward’s surprises soak in and stay vibrantly real. He, however, needs a bit more persuasion, digging deep into his own conscience to find out what’s been missing all these years from achieving happiness. It’s a bumpy road full of sly smirks and a couple gut-busting laughs; a journey so well-written, you have no other choice but to fall in love with both leads, hoping they’ll somehow end up together in the end. And don’t underestimate the power of mannered men falling for Roberts’ feminine guiles too as Ralph Bellamy and Hector Elizondo (my favorite character of the entire thing as hotel manager) warm to her instantly, their reactions subconsciously rubbing off on Gere’s character. I really do have to hand it to Julia as a result. All the praise lauded on this role is deserved; she hits it out of the park. It’s a shame she’s been relegated to mostly toothless female leads after, subduing her talents while also proving why Erin Brockovich earned her that Oscar. It just shows that sometimes fairy tales do come true. It just takes a kiss on the lips.

Pretty Woman 8/10

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photography:
courtesy of www.dvdbeaver.com

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