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Wayback Wednesday: Pretty Woman (1990)

If you don’t give this a movie a re-watch, you’ll make a big mistake. Big. Huge!

Just in time (ish) for Valentine’s Day, this week I visited my local library in search of one of the most beloved rom-coms of the 1990s. You guys, would you believe that this was my first time watching Pretty Woman (1990)? Weirdly enough though, I once performed a scene from this movie for an assignment in my high school drama class. In my Catholic high school drama class. What can I say? I ran with an edgy, artistic crowd back then. Anyway, after performing the scene (to a fair amount of applause, I might add)  I remember thinking, “hmmm, maybe I should check this movie out.” Well, six years later, I’ve finally checked out Pretty Woman. It was great!

Screen Shot 2020-02-10 at 8.08.27 PM
Credit: / Buena Vista Pictures

Pretty Woman tells the story of Vivian Ward, a down-on-her-luck sex worker living in Hollywood. When she meets Edward Lewis, a visiting wealthy businessman in need of a social escort, Vivian winds up pretending to be Edward’s girlfriend for a week. As the week progresses, what once started as a business deal develops into a real romance.

Garry Marshall fucking gets it. The iconic director is the man behind such beloved movies as Overboard (1987), Beaches (1988), and The Princess Diaries (2001). Um, he’s also behind some less beloved movies like Valentine’s Day (2010), New Year’s Eve (2011), and Mother’s Day (2016). Pretty Woman is by far Marshall’s most acclaimed movie and it’s not hard to see why. Let me just say, thank God this movie didn’t turn into the gritty drama that it was originally conceived as. Sure, maybe that movie would have been okay, but Pretty Woman just works so well as a romantic-comedy, largely because of the phenomenal chemistry between leads, Richard Gere and Julia Roberts. Seriously, I think it’s their off-the-charts compatibility that convinced Marshall to re-work the movie as a comedy.

First things first, oh wow, Gere and Roberts are stunningly beautiful in this movie. Like, no wonder Edward and Vivian fall in love! But even more remarkable than their good looks is the romantic chemistry between Gere and Roberts. It’s palpable. Each scene they share is exploding with passion and tension and I thoroughly believe every second of it. Whether it’s the intimate late night conversations or the steamy encounters, you can see an authentic romance blossoming between the pair. By the way, considering the fairly tame sex scenes, I cannot believe that this movie has an R rating. I guess because it includes sex work? Come on 1990, grow up.

I appreciate that it takes Edward and Vivian time to warm up to each other. Pretty Woman‘s premise may be a little out there, but the work the movie does to establish a meaningful relationship between the main characters is rooted in reality. From the beginning of the movie you understand Edward and Vivian’s motivations, and over the course, see how they help each other grow and mature. You also get to witness their unbridled charisma which, in my opinion, is enough to light up the screens of a dozen rom-coms! Admittedly, Edward comes off as a bit of a dick and a creeper in the beginning, but through the power of communication, montages and Julia Roberts, he softens into a leading man worth swooning over. Sidenote, if you haven’t seen Shall We Dance? (2004), definitely check it out because Gere is so adorably charming in that, it’s unbelievable.

Let’s talk about Roberts. For this role, her Oscar nomination for Best Actress was more than well deserved. Vivian is the heart and soul of Pretty Woman and Roberts perfectly embodies her playful, careful, strong-willed spirit. Endlessly endearing, Roberts owns this role. She’s an utterly entertaining and adorable delight. In everything she does, from the most infectious of laughs to the most powerful declarations, Roberts’ characterization and talent shine through. Pretty Woman is most definitely a rom-com that borders on silly, but it really is Roberts’ multiple scenes of introspection and character growth that bring out the movie’s dramatic side. Which do I prefer? Oh, the silly side of course! I mean, it’s well documented that I’m a fan of a good montage, but I LOVE a shopping montage set to a bouncy pop song the most! Hello, having Vivian shop on Rodeo Drive set to Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman?” That is absolutely my shit.

Of course, the most fun part of Pretty Woman is the iconic scene where Vivian returns to the high-end store where the bitchy salesgirls initially turned her away. Decked out in designer duds she returns and without missing a beat triumphantly says:

“I was in here yesterday. You wouldn’t wait on me. You work on commission right? Big mistake. Big. Huge! I have to go shopping now.”

God, is there anything more satisfying than asshole characters being put in their place? There are plenty of other cute, cheeky lines in Pretty Woman, maintaining a sense of fun to balance out the movie’s heavier moments. Like how about when Edward’s lawyer, Phillip, attempts to rape Vivian? I was not expecting something so serious! Especially from a character played by Jason Alexander of all people. Yeah, he turned out to not be as much fun as I had hoped. You know who was tons of fun as always though? Marshall mainstay, Héctor Elizondo. As Barney, the kind-hearted hotel manager, Elizondo is playing exactly the same character as he does in The Princess Diaries. Am I mad? Not at all! Elizondo always plays the type of level-headed friend and mentor we all deserve and I eat it up every time. I love him.

A Cinderella story turned upside down, Pretty Woman is an enchanting 90s classic that is definitely deserving of a re-watch. Its strong characters, effective storytelling and wildly romantic plot are sure to win over even the most cynical of movie-goers. Plus, I dare you to try and get the theme song out of your head after watching. It’s impossible!

Have you seen Pretty Woman? What are your favourite rom-coms?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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