Pretty Woman

It’s Flashback Friday!

This Week’s Flashback Movie….

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Release Date: March 23, 1990
Runtime: 119 minutes
Rating: R
Studio: Touchstone Pictures (Disney)
Director: Garry Marshall
Cast: Richard Gere; Julia Roberts; Hector Elizondo; Laura San Giacomo; Jason Alexander; Ralph Bellamy

Do you remember where you were when Julia Roberts became a movie star? You were probably one of the millions sitting in the pre-stadium seating movie theater in the spring of 1990 watching a star being born. Garry Marshall’s modern retelling of “Pygmalion” is, when you break it down, a light and fluffy, if rather fair movie. But from the moment Roberts struts down Hollywood Boulevard on her way to snag a john in those thigh-high boots, we are under her spell and everything else plays second fiddle.

What’s funny is that Richard Gere, the ostensible “star” in this movie, doesn’t even seem to care. He can sense that the movie is not his to own, even though at the time he was the much bigger name. Gere and Roberts form a working relationship that has become the modern standard of movie star chemistry, akin to Spencer and Tracy from Hollywood’s Golden Age. You can just tell. It’s one of those movies where you sense two actors genuinely enjoying each other’s company, having a good time…regardless of the fact that he’s playing a ruthless businessman and she, a hooker. (Witness the famous snapping-the-necklace-case-on-her-hand scene.) It’s a pleasure to watch.

In the event that you’re the one person in the universe that hasn’t seen Pretty Woman, let me give you a quick plot rundown. Richard Gere is Edward Lewis, corporate takeover artist. Finding himself lost on Hollywood Boulevard one night, he asks for directions from a gal working the street. She is Vivian Ward (Roberts), streetwise hooker with a heart of gold. She not only gives him directions, but also drives him to his hotel in his borrowed Lotus (for $20, natch). He is intrigued by her, and proposes that she be his escort for a few days while he’s in town. Of course she agrees and they settle on a price ($3000…”Holy Shit!”). He gives her money for clothes (“Big Mistake. Huge!”); she accompanies him to business functions. Of course, the whole time they are falling in love. Hollywood fairly tales don’t get much hokier.

While “Pretty Woman” doesn’t possess an especially unique visual style and the script is adequate at best (a couple of good one-liners poke through), it has an inherent sweetness that renders it irresistible. Of course, what pushes this movie over the top into pure cinematic gold is Roberts, no question. Without her (and, apparently, she wasn’t the first, or even the fifth actress to be offered this role…kicking ourselves now, aren’t we, Molly Ringwald?), the movie would have probably been a moderate hit for Disney instead of the blockbuster it turned out to be. Roberts relies not so much on “acting” to play Vivian, portraying the character more as a bubbly girl-next-door rather than a hardened hooker. Her earthy charm allows Vivian to be much more relatable to anyone who’s ever been down and out. Look at the way she flips her hair or how she interacts with Vivian’s buddy, Kit (Laura San Giacomo…hilarious! “Fifty bucks Grandpa. For seventy-five the wife can watch.”) Watch the vulnerability she displays while mingling with high society types at the polo function. Any average person would feel a little out of place in a situation like that and you can sense Vivian’s realization that she’s a fish out of water, trying to act like she belongs. Some credit might be attributable to Garry Marshall. After all, he’s the director and, presumably, gave Roberts direction. But I suspect that most of Roberts’ performance is simple, natural charisma. Whether I’m right or wrong, it doesn’t really matter, it works…Roberts was even nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress the following year!

Anyway, if you’ve never seen “Pretty Woman” or haven’t seen it in a while, give it a look. Regardless of some of the crap Roberts has done since (“Mary Reilly” anyone?) and what you might think of her as an actress or personality, there is no denying her sparkle here. This is the movie that made her America’s bona fide sweetheart, for better or worse, and you will be left with a big, wide Roberts-like smile on your face. Just shut up and surrender to it!

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