Directed by: Garry Marshall. Starring: Richard Gere, Julia Roberts, Jason Alexander. Runtime: 1h 59 min. Released: March 23, 1990.
Another day, another first time viewing of a classic. This time it’s Pretty Woman, the film that catapulted Julia Roberts into stardom. Here, she plays Vivian, a prostitute who is hired by a businessman, Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) to accompany him for the week to social events and they end up falling in love.
In story, I think what’s most interesting about Pretty Woman is how elegantly it handles the class issue and how everyone sticks up their noses at Vivian because she’s a prostitute and because of the way she dresses. It’s not a film about transforming her into a pretty woman (which, let’s be real, she is from the start) but increasing her confidence about herself and the way she’s viewed.
At least, that’s how I took it – but it’s also just called that because of the song. It’s kind-of great watching the dress montage for the first time when “Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison plays. When they played the chords for it but didn’t actually play the lyrics the first time I was grumpy for a minute until they actually went into it.
As for Roberts’ performance itself, it’s amazing. Vivian is just someone you root for. She’s so likable, playful and down-to-Earth and she is just plainly herself. What you see is what you get. The way she’s able to win over characters around her like the hotel manager Barney Thompson (a wonderful Hector Elizondo) feels authentic and effortless. Roberts is so charming in this great role and it’s no wonder this made her a star and brought her a second Oscar nomination.
Her chemistry with Richard Gere is also strong – and there are some steamy scenes – and since I wanted to see Vivian happy, I rooted for Edward to do the right thing. I just didn’t really care about his side of the story all that much, which really becomes the core story because truthfully there is not that much going on in Vivian’s life, but it’s interesting learning about her backstory and how she went into prostitution. Anyway, Edward’s a big corporate bully trying to take over a company owned by James Morse (Ralph Bellamy), which he will sell for much more money.
I just cared about the romance and Vivian, and that’s where the film was strong and very funny. Their chemistry grew throughout and I did like Edward towards the end of the film. One great part about their romance is that Vivian has a rule about no kissing on the lips, so when there is kissing, all bets are off and it becomes even more charming.
I liked Edward towards the end of the film when his arc was complete – fully wanting to take down companies to growing a heart – but the character’s boring throughout. I like Gere in Primal Fear, but I just didn’t think he left much of an impression here. It could be the point near the beginning since he’s a corporate jackass, but when I looked at his eyes, they seemed cold. There’s just nothing there – like he sold his soul for the best parking spot. His girlfriend dumps over the phone near the beginning of the film and that doesn’t affect him in the slightest. I get it, he’s stoic, but it’s not likable.
I just didn’t care for the character until the end where he seemed like a real human being. To be fair, he feels authentic when he’s with Vivian and Gere plays the boring character well because his calm demeanor matches well with Roberts’ bubbly personality. I do think Roberts brings enough charm for the two of them, too.
At least Edward has more bite to him as a character than his lawyer sidekick Phillip Stuckey (Jason Alexander), and you just know he’s bad news when he has a name like Stuckey. He’s a weasel and a creep who feels like an amalgamation of everyone who treats her like a prostitute and not like a human. He’s not a good person and he’s cliched to a point where he makes the dress saleswomen – who shooed Vivian away near the beginning of the film – look like her best friends. Most of the material in J.F. Lawton’s screenplay is very solid, but Stuckey is the one thing that feels very unrealistic in how he progresses from unfunny sidekick lawyer to total scumbag. That arc comes out of left field and is only present for conflict between Vivian and Edward. Though, for Alexander, he’s talented and I’m glad he’s mainly known as George Costanza and not Phillip Stuckey. Thank heavens for Seinfeld.