Pretty Woman (1990) Movie Review
(Liverpool, United Kingdom)
I watched the movie Pretty Woman for the first time when I was 17 or so, a few months after its release. We (my sister and I) had heard that the film was very good, but our mother had also heard about it. She didn’t think that a story about a prostitute was suitable for her precious daughters, but we worked on her until she reluctantly said yes. After all, with a 15 rating, we were both considered mature enough to take whatever the movie had to offer.
I’ve since watched the movie several times, both before and after getting married and having children. I can confirm that my initial opinion of the movie has stood the test of time and it’s now one of my go-to favorite movies of all time!
The first moment that I realized that was going to enjoy it was when Vivienne (played by Julia Roberts) climbed into the driving seat, showing a far greater mastery of the high-powered vehicle than the alpha male, the rich, successful and confident Edward (Richard Gere). This small feminist touch is beautifully handled, so subtle that it’s easy to miss, but already beginning to layer on complexities and nuances onto the personalities of the characters. When Edward quotes Vivienne’s rhetorical statement that the car “corners like it’s on rails” to the car’s owner, Stuckey, I was both charmed and amused!
These moments of endearing humor occur throughout the movie, for example when Vivienne walks into the hotel and is surprised into uttering a bald “Wow!” at the sumptuousness of the décor and almost all the scenes featuring Barney Thompson (Héctor Elizondo), the hotel manager. Barney’s urbane façade and the genuine warmth underlying it, make every interaction with the surprisingly naïve Vivienne heart-warming and feel-good.
One of the most iconic scenes in the movie, that still resonates with viewers, even twenty-five years later, is the shopping scene. Vivienne is sent out to buy some clothes for an evening out with Edward, but returns to the hotel in tears, shamed by a snooty sales assistant who refuses to serve her. Edward, determined to make up for Vivienne’s awful experience, takes her shopping the next day, insisting on lots of “sucking up” on the part of the retail staff. Happily laden with shopping bags and now looking every inch the rich lady, Vivienne returns to the scene of her humiliation and elegantly delivers a stinging “Do you remember me? You wouldn’t serve me yesterday. You work on commission, don’t you? Big mistake. Huge.”
The sex/love scenes are definitely deserving of their 15 rating but, despite the clearly understood commercial aspect of the relationship, they are depicted warmly and affectionately and there’s nothing sleazy or depressing in the interactions between Edward and Vivienne.
It’s only with Stuckey (Jason Alexander), Edward’s friend and lawyer, that any grubbiness begins to creep into the picture. Stuckey propositions Vivienne in full view of a polo crowd, and is unable to disconnect his knowledge that Vivienne is a prostitute from the sight of the lovely young woman standing in front of him. His persistence in treating her like disposable trash casts a pall over the film, a pall only dispersed when Edward punches Stuckey and throws him out, asking Vivienne to forgive him for betraying her secret without letting her know. Stuckey has a creepy name, is convincingly cast, and the part is brilliantly acted: the audience loves to loathe his money-grubbing, lustful little soul!
The movie doesn’t shy away from the drug-driven sex trade, but rather skirts it, not gingerly but more absentmindedly. This adds to the charm of the film as a whole because the story is, more than anything else, a redemption tale for both Vivienne and Edward. My final verdict: I loved the movie from start to finish and wouldn’t change anything about it!