Garry Marshall’s Pretty Woman is one of the most iconic movies of the 90s. Everybody knows Pretty Woman. It is so famous, it has become entrenched in popular culture, so much so that my subconscious assumed I have actually seen the movie in its entirety, but I haven’t. Well, now I have. And coming into it, I did know a couple of things: Julia Roberts is a hooker with a heart of gold. Richard Gere is a rich executive who picks her up and gives her a make-over. The red dress. The Rodeo Drive shopping spree. I also know that Pretty Woman, as much as it is well-loved by some, it is also much hated by others. Reasons range from it being degrading to women. That it upholds materialism and male supremacy. That it glamorizes prostitution.
So here’s the deal. Pretty Woman opens with a cop interrogating a bystander about a hooker who is now cozy inside a body bag. So I don’t think the movie encourages prostitution, no. The extent of it doing so is akin to a Tom & Jerry cartoon encouraging violence by showing that you can blow up your adversary with dynamite. But Pretty Woman does gloss over prostitution. It later establishes that said hooker in the body bag died of drug overdose, and not prostitution. Pretty Woman is big on renouncing drugs but is quite unaware of hardships of prostitution. Okay, I don’t know the life of a hooker but I imagine it is a hard one and they’d rather get out if they could. And while Julia Roberts character Vivian Ward does make known her wish to “get out”. But she and her hooker best friend (Laura San Giacomo as Kit De Luca), talk about their job with such flippancy, it’s like they’re merely discussing highschool boys and parties. And there are moments in the movie where I doubt as to whether Vivian is actually a hooker or is just playing dress-up as a hooker. She is so easily alarmed and seems to be so innocent about the ways of the world that I just can’t bring myself to believe that she has worked the mean streets of Hollywood Boulevard. I guess it is just a very tricky thing to have a hooker as a protagonist, portrayed in this particular way, and the vehicle being a light-hearted rom-com because prostitution is such a serious and complex issue.
Then there is the whole submission to the male supremacy thing. Well, part of prostitution is you get paid to submit. So I don’t think this has anything to do with “male supremacy” over women. It just comes with the job. And the movie is also quick to establish that Julia Roberts may be a hooker but she isn’t anybody’s property. “Look, you don’t own me. I decide, okay ? I say who; I say when.”
As to the movie espousing materialism. I don’t think so. It is merely stating the way of the world. When you have money and dress nice, you get treated differently. More often than not you get respect. I do love the Rodeo Drive shopping scene where Julia Roberts comes back looking like a million bucks and telling the snobby sales ladies that they made a “Big Mistake. Huge.” I was like: You go girl!
For a rom-com Pretty Woman isn’t as good as I hoped it would be. I mean they say this is the rom-com from which all other rom-coms have sprung forth. For something considered as a classic, I don’t particularly think this film stands the test of time. There are moments when the wackado plot and clichés just made me cringe. But sure, there are fun moments here and there, but save for Julia Roberts the entire movie is so unremarkable. Richard Gere in particular is just so bland, I found it a bit of chore sitting thorough scenes where he is there. Which is actually a great deal of the film. But Julia is just so spirited and sparkling and earnest, it is impossible not be mesmerized by her.
I guess for Pretty Woman to work for me, I have to whip out the Mindy Kaling rule: “I simply regard romantic comedies as a subgenre of sci-fi, in which the world created therein has different rules than my regular human world.” But this rule can only take me so far before my brain bails out. Now I am all for make-believe. It is part of every movie, let alone romantic comedies. But the movie still has to have an awareness of reality and real issues and Pretty Woman doesn’t.
Am I overthinking Pretty Woman? Maybe.