Throwback Thursday: ‘Pretty Woman’

By Stephanie Brandhuber   

There are some movies that will stick with you forever. Some of these are so embedded in your memory and consciousness that you can remember the exact moment you watched them: what you were doing, what you felt, what you ate… For me, Pretty Woman is one of these movies.

pretty woman hooker

I was ten years old and at a sleepover with six other over-excited girls. We were planning on renting a film (RIP Blockbuster) but then it was suggested we watch the hostess’ mother’s’ copy of Pretty Woman. Of course, it was noted, we’d have to ask permission since it was rated R and technically off limits to us. After giving into seven pairs of puppy-dog eyes and a lot of pleading and bargaining, my friend’s mom let us watch it under adult supervision. Looking back on it now, I think my friend’s mother just wanted to feel like “one of the girls”. Bless her.

In any event, I remember the feeling of excitement as we tucked into this taboo treat of a film, the buzz of anticipation (or maybe it was the buzz of a sugar rush) surging through me as its titular song played. It was truly cinematic magic – Julia Roberts’ 500-watt smile, her singing to Prince in the bathtub, the snap of the jewellery box on her fingers followed by her enchantingly goofy laugh, the infamous Rodeo Drive scene where she shows the snooty shop bitches what’s what…. These are all movie moments that have stayed with me to this day, and are all reasons why this film is so intoxicatingly delightful. Sure, it’s a film about a prostitute who gets picked up by a rich guy looking for companionship and “fun”, but it’s so much more than that. And as a ten-year-old girl watching it, it wasn’t about a lucky hooker; it was a Cinderella story of love and life and improbable possibilities, and I know that this is why, to this day, this enchanting story remains one of the most beloved rom-coms ever.

Pretty Woman bath

Some people have criticised Pretty Woman for glamorising and sugar-coating prostitution. Haters have deemed it an insensitive portrayal of the struggles and realities of street workers. But, let’s just take a moment. This isn’t a documentary. This isn’t even a serious think-piece film. It’s a warm, rags-to-riches romantic comedy that wholly succeeds in doing what any decent rom-com should: it makes you happy. The feel-good glow that occurs after watching this movie is wholly thanks to Roberts and her stand-out performance as Vivian. No one else could have pulled off this role quite like the the toothy and Bambi-legged actress, who, thanks to her role in this 1990 box-office hit, soared to fame and fortune. Richard Gere also does an admirable job playing Edward, the ruthless corporate tycoon whose icy heart is melted by Vivian’s warmth, and when paired together, Gere and Roberts share a wonderful and convincing chemistry.

Director Garry Marshall, who sadly passed away this week, saw the talent and potential in the young Julia Roberts, and thank goodness he did as Pretty Woman just wouldn’t be the same without her. Robert’s Vivian isn’t only beautiful and charming, she is smart and witty too. She may be the “Prostitute with a Heart of Gold” stereotype, but she’s certainly no bimbo, and she’s not afraid to speak her mind. Not for one second do you ever get the feeling that Vivian is less than Edward’s equal. She proves time and time again that she is a force to be reckoned with, and her innate charm only serves to highlight her natural intelligence.

Perhaps the most charming aspect of this film is its recognition at the end that this Cinderella story isn’t just about the damsel in distress (or here, the prostitute in peril). Pretty Woman makes sure to make a point that Edward and Vivian are two equals who have both benefitted from this romance. And although Vivian has told Edward that she used to dream of being rescued by a prince, when it comes time for Edward to make his final romantic gesture at the end of the film (queue climbing up a fire escape to sweep his “princess” off her feet), Gere asks: “What happened after he walked up the tower and rescued her?”, she replies, “She rescues him right back.” And that, ladies and gentleman, is how you do a rom-com. Thank you Garry Marshall for this wonderful film, thank you for the memories, thank you for your legacy and that of so many actors and actresses whose careers you helped forge. Thank you. You will always be loved and remembered. 

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(Photos copyright: Touchstone Pictures, Silver Screen Partners IV)

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