PRETTY WOMAN (1990)
Directed by Garry Marshall
Written by J.F. Lawton
Pretty Woman has young, attractive, likable actors falling in love. What could be better? Sure, it’s an improbable romance, but aren’t they all. You forget about yourself and the problems of the world for about two hours. I know I’m probably the last person to see this movie, but it was on the “AFI Romance” list so I tried it.
Corporate raider Edward Lewis, played by Richard Gere, is a big shot in the business world. He and his partner, Phil, a one-dimensional, ruthless businessman played by pre-Seinfeld Jason Alexander, are well known for buying up large companies, breaking them up and selling off everything at a substantial profit. While in Los Angeles during his latest deal, Edward breaks up with his girlfriend who is back in New York. In an attempt to blow off some stream, he drives around in Phil’s car, but gets lost. He sees a woman hanging out on the street and asks her for directions. She agrees to help him for cash and ends up driving.
Julia Roberts plays Vivian, the hooker with a heart of gold. She’s cute but not gorgeous, so women identify with her and aren’t intimidated. I found her eyebrows distracting. Viv gets treated poorly by many horrible people who only see the surface, but don’t know the real her. Yet there is no “real her” because Lawton only needed caricatures to write this story, leaving Viv with nothing distinguishing or unique about her.
At the hotel, Edward learns of her occupation and asks her to stay and talk. She usually gets $100 an hour, but is willing to stay the night and talk for $300.00. Quite the bargain. Viv continues to amaze us with her business savvy when Edward asks her to stay for six days and they negotiate $3,000. This scene didn’t ring true. She could get so much more and obviously has no pimp. They eventually have sex during their time together, but it’s always dealt with quickly in a sweet, romantic way.
To show the differences between them, there’s a scene out on Edward’s penthouse balcony where Viv hangs out near the edge. This makes him nervous and he stays close to the door. If you want some easy money, watch this film with a friend who’s never seen it and bet on Edward eventually standing near the edge before the credits roll. It proves she’s changed him.
The hotel staff and guests are aghast at finding Viv at the hotel. Only in the movies and bad novels would I be expected to believe that the upper class is surprised at the presence of a prostitute. It’s freakin’ Beverly Hills. Rich people buy things all the time. They’re the ones usually involved with prostitutes and drugs; however, they often get away with it because they can afford good attorneys.
Since Viv agrees to accompany Edward to different functions, she needs to buy new clothes. The staff of a boutique on Rodeo Drive treats her rudely because of what she’s wearing. Her outfit may seem odd fashionwise, but it’s certainly not hookerwear. Rich people are always into weird clothes. Once you spend more than $150 on it, they call it “fashion.” I have yet to see anybody walking around in what models wear on runways. Good thing Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City didn’t live in this world. She’d be arrested half the time she left her apartment.
Everything is going great for our young couple. They go to rich people functions like the opera and a polo match, but then, right on cue, trouble rears its ugly head, causing the temporary rift in our beautiful couple’s romance. Phil is upset that Edward is losing his killer instinct in their latest business deal. He blames Viv for turning Edward soft. When Edward tells Phil she’s a prostitute, Phil solicits some action, upsetting her to no end. She is awfully sensitive for a prostitute, but, to be fair, back when this was written I don’t think prostitutes were subjected to “water sports” and blumpkins, so they may have been more delicate. At a later point in the story Phil is physically aggressive with Viv, but Edward walks in and roughs him up. Viv leaves to go back to her apartment, keeping us on the edge of our seat on whether they will get back together or will Edward leave for New York. The morning Edward is checking out of the hotel and he’s sitting at the edge of the balcony. Feel free to make your friend pay off the bet now because you know how it’s going to end. Edward pulls up to her apartment and whisks her away. Whoopee!
Viv the underdog triumphs against all the naysayers and even gets the great-looking guy in the end, who she changed over the few days they spent together from a shallow, money-grubber into a wonderful Prince Charming. All women want to believe they can change men and this movie fulfills their fantasy. I’m tearing up right now.
Pretty Woman made a ton of dough, but I have no idea what to make of J.F. Lawton. Is he a lucky, untalented hump or a serious businessman who gives the people what they want? Or a third option: both? If companies like McDonald’s can be sued for products that harm people’s physical health, shouldn’t Lawton be sued for harming people’s mental health? There should be a Surgeon General’s warning at the beginning, informing you about potential I.Q. loss.
Most of the time during the film I thought Lawton obviously has no idea about prostitutes or rich people except for what he's seen in movies. Julia and Laura don’t seem like prostitutes in their look or attitude. The costume designer must have been 60 years old. Sure, they are bad dressers, but that’s about it. We never see the seamy side of prostitution: the grime of selling sex to strangers, the devastation brought on by addiction, the violence inflicted and sustained from living in that world.
For example, we eventually find out what drove Viv to the depths of degradation that resulted in her working the streets of Los Angeles. She left home with a boyfriend and ran off to California. They broke up and rather than go home and deal with whatever mild embarrassment would have been inflicted, she decided it would be better to be a prostitute. HUH?? Her parents must be wicked dealers of sarcasm to make prostitution a better option.
This movie-by-numbers was directed by Garry Marshall. The last thing I thought he directed well was Nothing in Common back in 1986. He has produced more sap than the maple trees of Vermont. Sure he was great as the Desert Inn Casino Manager in Albert Brooks’ Lost in America, but one role can only carry you so far. He tipped the scales out of his favor with this film back in 1990 and his choices only continue to savage his legacy. It’s strange that he didn’t learn about the tragic path prostitution holds when he read the script, but, as stated earlier, the girls don’t appear to be prostitutes.
Pretty Woman is mind-numbing distraction from reality, a “feel good” movie made solely for the purpose of making a lot of money and in exchange, it provides happy thoughts and cozy feelings. Nothing about the movie takes a chance or a risk, ensuring that it doesn’t offend any viewers. There’s nothing wrong with that, but at least when Robert Johnson made a deal with the Devil, he got the ability to play guitar and became a legendary bluesman after his death. Eric Clapton has just released a tribute album in Johnson’s honor. What does Lawton have to show for his crossroads contract? Under Siege 3 starring Steven Seagal. At least it explains why Viv settled for $3,000 for six days.