Film Review: Pretty Woman (1990)

in #aaalast year (edited)


It is quite common for Hollywood films to be blamed for many ills in today’s world on the account of their influence on young or impressionable minds. Most of such accusations are pointed towards films with excessive sex or violence. However, if we are to believe law enforcement sources and activists that deal with the street prostitution and related issues, the film that actually did clear damage by making certain things more attractive on screen than in reality belonged to the genre that is usually not associated with problematic content. It was Pretty Woman, 1990 romantic comedy directed by Gary Marshall.

The plot begins when Edward Lewis (played by Richard Gere), rich and successful businessman specialised in corporate takeovers, arrives from New York to Los Angeles. Edward’s private life, however, leaves much to be desired and after being left by his latest girlfriend, he feels lonely and while driving through city he accidentally ends up at Hollywood Boulevard, area that serves as city’s red light district. He asks for directions and receives help from prostitute Vivian Ward (played by Julia Roberts). Edward is quite impressed by her charm and proposes her to join him at luxurious hotel for next week in exchange for 3000 US$ and new wardrobe. The relationship is to be strictly platonic and Julia’s task is to pretend to be Edward’s girlfriend while he conducts delicate negotiations with James Morse (played by Ralph Bellamy), elderly owner of financially troubled shipbuilding company. Street smart but uneducated and unrefined is deeply impressed by Edward’s fine taste and generosity and she begins to fall in love with him, just as he begins to fall in love with her. But their blooming romance is likely to end when the week ends and especially after Edward’s sleazy attorney Phillip Stuckey (played by Jason Alexander) discovers truth about Vivian’s true line of work.

Original script by J. F. Lawton envisioned Pretty Woman as rather dark drama that seriously explored issues of street prostitution and drug abuse, which included rather downbeat or, at best, semi-ironic ending, in some ways very much like similarly-themed American Gigolo, another film with similar subject and starring Richard Gere. The project in its original form, however, belonged to the past, mainly the New Hollywood era when such dark and depressive films were in vogue. By early 1990s the regime in Hollywood changed with producers and studio executives retaking control from rebellious and anti-establishment film authors. One of such executive was Jeffrey Katzenberg, president of Walt Disney Studios. In a process very much like the one satirically depicted in Robert Altman’s Player few years later, he insisted that Pretty Woman must be altered into comedy with conventional happy or, in this particular case, fairytale ending. That also meant that Lawton’s script had to be purged from all problematic elements like explicit sex, violence and drug use. In many such instances meddling executives ruined potentially great films, but Pretty Woman actually benefited from such approach. It became massive hit and one of the most popular films of its time, turning relatively unknown Julia Roberts into new Hollywood superstar and future queen of romantic comedies.

Much of the film’s success can be attributed to Gary Marshall, director at the time mostly known for his work on some of the most popular television sitcoms of 1970s and 1980s. Marshall had good knack for comedy and it shows in the film. He enjoyed relatively decent subject but it also had great cast, which he also allowed to improvise on the set. Production of Pretty Woman was, by most accounts, easy and rather pleasant affair for most people involved and some of that apparently rubbed on the screen. Richard Gere, who for the first time had opportunity to act in high budget comedy, was quite eager to show his skills and he also established wonderful chemistry with Roberts. Their interaction was well-matched by the work of supporting players – Hector Elizondo as kind-hearted hotel manager, Jason Alexander as sleazy lawyer and even Larry Miller left great impression in relatively small role of manager of luxury clothing store.

However, whether someone would like Pretty Woman or not ultimately depends on individual tastes of each viewer. Those with low tolerance for saccharine in Hollywood products would probably dismiss it as just another formulaic Hollywood fantasy with little or no connection with real world. Those who actually yearn for some old-fashioned Hollywood escapism would probably appreciate this film. Its biggest flaw, apart from predictability, appears to be music. Score by James Newton Howard is unremarkable and overshadowed by the rest of soundtrack, which represents typically 1980s mix of Golden Oldies (like Roy Orbison’s title song) and more contemporary songs, like “It Must Have Been Love” by Swedish pop duo Roxette, which became massive hit at the time. In any case, Pretty Woman is well-made film that could be recommended to nostalgics and romantics, but, most importantly, viewers able to set apart Hollywood fantasy from reality. Many teenage and young women who, inspired by this film, came to Los Angeles in hope of finding their prince charming and fairytale romance on city’s streets learned to regret their decisions.

RATING: 6/10 (++)

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