Review: Pretty Woman (1990)

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Pretty Woman (1990)

Directed by: Garry Marshall | 119 minutes | comedy, romance | Actors: Richard Gere, Julia Roberts, Ralph Bellamy, Jason Alexander, Laura San Giacomo, Alex Hyde-White, Amy Yasbeck, Elinor Donahue, Hector Elizondo, Judith Baldwin

“Pretty Woman”. These two words have not only become immortal by Roy Orbison’s hit of the same name. Many people will also think of the “My Fair Lady”-esque Hollywood fairy tale by director Garry Marshall, which marked the definitive breakthrough of the cheerful Julia Roberts. Though containing dubious morals and devoid of any realism, “Pretty Woman” is a slick, skillfully crafted romantic comedy taken to the next level by its excellent cast.

The main responsible for the success of ‘Pretty Woman’ is the spontaneous one. disarming Juia Roberts who was rightly hailed as the new big movie star at the time. Although it is perhaps somewhat unlikely that a woman with the looks of Roberts would have been assigned to the oldest profession in the world, she knows how to bind and win over the viewer almost immediately. Her broad smile and charming personality make her instantly loved by everyone who meets her. So also with Edward (Gere) who asks her for directions to Beverly Hills in his Lotus. It’s the beginning of the first night together, then a week, and finally the rest of their lives. Although she admits several times after statements from Edward that she has never been so humiliated in her life, he apparently has a certain attraction that is irresistible. Perhaps it is his calm, laconic attitude that suggests deeper grounds. Or the fact that he doesn’t jump right on top of Vivian after he pays her for her services (he just wants company). Or maybe because Vivian finds out that he can also show his sensitive side, is “malleable”, and is not the heartless businessman he appears to be. A cynic would say that it is mainly the luxurious life that Vivian falls for. After all, she’s most ecstatic in the film when Edward promises or gives her a lot of money: when she’s just supposed to get $3,000 for a week’s companionship, and when Edward swings his credit card around clothing stores to give her a brand new wardrobe. and lots of (forced) compliments to please.

Yes, for cynics there is plenty to whine about ‘Pretty Woman’. For example, when it comes to the “public-friendly” portrayal of prostitution. Aside from the news at the beginning of the movie that a crack whore has just been murdered, prostitution doesn’t even seem like such a bad career choice here. Vivian looked for a job, went to see her friend Kit, and she made “it” all sound so nice that she thought: “why not?”, she tells Edward in his hotel room. The film immediately makes it clear that she doesn’t have much money left to spend – by showing some dollar bills in her secret hiding place. [de toiletstortbak] – but judging by the apartment where she and friend Kit live, and their excellent health, you’d think they weren’t all that bad. But you’d almost say a grouch who pays attention to this. ‘Pretty Woman’ was never meant to be a raw, realistic depiction of a hooker’s life. It is a fairy tale with a strong Pygmalion/”My Fair Lady” content. In short, the poor, uncivilized girl on the street is taught civilization and culture by a wealthy gentleman. This task is not entirely taken on by Edward, but to a large extent also by the hotel owner Barney (Hector Elizondo), who gives Vivian a nice cocktail dress and teaches her which forks to eat with during a fancy dinner.

This “education” makes for some touching and funny moments when Vivian has to put her training into practice during an important business dinner from Edward. It’s fun when she shoots an escargot off the table at lightning speed when she tries to hold it with a pair of pliers. A butler catches the thing effortlessly, noting that this happens so often. Roberts laughs and says, “Slippery little suckers.” Elderly businessman James Morse (Ralph Bellamy), whose company Edward plans to take over, is very friendly to Vivian moments later and puts her at ease by simply eating his bread with his hands so as not to embarrass Vivian. A cute moment.

Although Gere comes across as distinguished, acts solidly, and certainly has chemistry with Roberts, besides Roberts himself, it is mainly the side characters that contribute to the success of the film. The endearing Hector Elizondo who quickly embraces Vivian; Ralph Bellamy, who turns out to be a fatherly figure to Edward and is in fact the conscience of the film; Laura San Giacoma, who as Kit shows a lot of spirit and (brutal) energy, and provides a welcome comic note; and a mean, sly, Jason Alexander (George Costanza from “Seinfeld”), who as Edward’s business partner Philip fervently plays the one and only villain in the film.

But Julia Roberts is ultimately the big, dazzling star who makes “Pretty Woman” the romantic fairy tale it has become. And when Edward arrives like a prince in his white limo at the end and then – including a fear of heights – ascends the fire escape with a rose in his mouth to ask his beloved Vivian for her hand, few viewers will be able to resist such sweetness. Many will happily put themselves in the shoes of Vivian, moved to tears and ultimately happy. Because Julia Roberts is ‘Pretty Woman’.

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