Pretty Woman

Released:  1990

Cast:  Richard Gere, Julia Roberts, Ralph Bellamy, Jason Alexander, Laura San Giacomo, Amy Yasbeck, Hector Elizondo

Oscar Nominations:  Best Actress (Julia Roberts)

SUMMARY:  Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) is a ruthless, high successful businessman who has come to Los Angeles to arrange the takeover of a company.  Edward is not familiar with L.A., and while looking for Beverly Hills, he gets lost, and ends up in the red-light district.  When he stops, he is approached by a prostitute named Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts).  Edward is uninterested, but does hire Vivian to direct him back to his hotel.  During the trip, Edward warms up slightly, and ends up hiring her for the entire night.  He is very surprised by Vivian, as she doesn’t do drugs, as he expected, and does floss her teeth.  The next day, he hires her for the entire week, to accompany him on various social events.  In addition to her normal fees, Edward agrees to pay for the various new clothes that Vivian will need, and gives her his credit cards.  However, when Vivian goes to the stores on Rodeo Drive, she is turned away; the saleswoman realizes that Vivian is a prostitute, and refuses to help her.  Vivian also faces this attitude from the hotel manager, Barney Thompson (Hector Elizondo), but as he sees more of Vivian, Barney’s opinion of her starts to change.  When he learns that she was unable to find a dress suitable for that evening’s formal event, Barney helps her get one; he also teachers her formal table manners.  At the dinner that night, with the client that Edward is trying to buy out, Vivian makes a terrific impression.  Edward, however, quickly angers the clients with his disregard for the history of the man’s business.  After the dinner, Edward and Vivian have a minor spat, but quickly reconcile.  The next day, Edward is surprised to find that Vivian bought only one thing with his credit card.  When he asks her about it, she tells him how the stores refused to serve her.  Edward responds by returning to one of the stores with her, where he makes his wishes very clear; he then gives Vivian his credit cards again, and tells her to cut loose.  When Vivian returns to the hotel hours later, she is laden with shopping bags.

Vivian makes good use of her new clothes the next day, when she and Edward attend a polo match for networking purposes.  When Vivian starts talking to the son of Edward’s client, Edwards’ lawyer Phillip Stuckey (Jason Alexander) thinks she’s a corporate spy.  He voices this concern to Edward, who reveals Vivian’s true profession; the next chance he gets, Phillip rudely asks Vivian if he can hire her when Edward is done.  Vivian is tremendously upset, but Edward manages to calm her down.  The following day, he breaks his usual habits by leaving work early to take Vivian to the opera; they have such a good time that Vivian convinces him to take the entire next day off, as well.  They spend this day together, and that evening Vivian tells Edward that she’s in love with him.  In the morning, Edward offers to pay for an apartment for Vivian, but she refuses.  She tells Edward that she wants the whole package:  a life with a man who loves her, not as a kept woman who gets occasional visits from her benefactor.  During this time, Edward’s attitude toward business in general, and particularly his impending deal has greatly changed.  He is no longer completely consumed by work, and has begun to empathize with his current client.  This causes him to decide not to buy the company, but instead bankroll it until it is successful again.  His lawyer, Phillip, is horrified by the decision, and goes to the hotel to confront Edward.  However, he only finds Vivian, and takes out his anger by attempting to sexually assault her.  Luckily, Edward returns and pulls Phillip off, then throws him out of the suite.  Edward has decided that he wants Vivian to stay with him, but she decides that she cannot do this, as he is still paying her.  She goes back to her own small apartment, and prepares to leave for San Francisco; Edward also prepares to leave for New York.  On the way out of the hotel, he briefly speaks with Barney, who makes him realize just what he is leaving behind.  Instead of going to the airport, Edward goes to Vivian’s apartment, where he reenacts her childhood fantasy of a knight rescuing the princess from her tower by climbing up her fire escape.  He only makes it part of the way up before Vivian comes to meet him.

MY TAKE:  This has been famously called the “hooker with a heart of gold” movie, and it is entertaining.  It’s Julia Roberts’ first big role, and who doesn’t love Julia Roberts?  She has an infectious smile, laugh and overall personality, and is just great fun to watch.  If anybody could thaw out Edward’s stone-cold heart, it would be Vivian.  While engaging, though, the plot is a little hard to believe.  I have a hard time believing that any prostitute in Los Angeles in the late 80s/early 90s could survive for very long without a pimp, and an even harder time believing that she was completely drug-free.  Not that I have a lot of knowledge in this area, but drug addiction seems to be a pretty common issue among prostitutes, and is actually frequently the reason they get into that business.  In addition, this was the wealthy area of Los Angeles in the late 1980s – wasn’t just about everybody doing drugs?  For these reasons, I don’t think the story is particularly realistic, but it is fun.  I particularly like the scene where Edward is showing Vivian the necklace he’s borrowed for her:  as she tentatively reaches for it, he snaps the lid of the box at her fingers, and she absolutely cackles.  I also like the shopping scene, where Vivian returns to the store that had previously turned her away, and flashes all of Edward’s money in the lady’s face.  This scene was referenced in Valentine’s Day, another movie Julia Roberts did with director Garry Marshall:  in one of the bloopers shown at the end of the movie, a limo driver asks her if she’s ever shopped on Rodeo Drive.  Julia responds by saying that she did, once, but that it didn’t go well.

RATING:  Not very realistic, but fun.


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