Pretty Woman (review)

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My Fair Hooker

I can understand why men might like Pretty Woman. I can’t understand what women see in it.

Edward Lewis (Richard Gere: The Jackal, Red Corner) is a sort of generic greed-is-good superrich guy (it was still the 80s in 1990 when Pretty Woman was released). He has an ex-wife; he has a girlfriend who complains that she talks to his secretary more that she talks to him. Alone in L.A. on business for a few days, he decides to buy himself some less-demanding companionship, with no “romantic entanglements.”

He ends up hiring the world’s most wholesome streetwalker, Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts: My Best Friend’s Wedding, Conspiracy Theory). Never mind that she doesn’t eat right and screws anyone who’ll pay: She’s cute and clean — not scrawny and skanky like the hookers you really see on Hollywood Boulevard — with unblemished skin and fabulous hair. She knows tons about cars and doesn’t wear much in the way of clothing, and she’s yours for the right price.
No wonder Edward — and by extension, all the men in the audience — loves her. She’s the perfect male fantasy: a gorgeous woman who’ll have sex with you and not want to talk about it afterward. There’s an Eliza Doolittle thing going on here, too — what man would not want to mold a woman to his exact needs? Edward teaches the crude, ill-mannered Vivian how to dress properly, showers her with expensive baubles, squires her to the opera. (Roberts in the red gown is meant to remind us of the transformed Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady.) Of course, Henry Higgins didn’t screw Eliza Doolittle five minutes after they met.

But what do women see in Pretty Woman? Is it Edward’s money? Saleswomen in boutiques on Rodeo Drive fall all over themselves to be nice to Vivian when Edward informs them that he’ll be spending an “obscene” amount of money on her. Is it a father-figure fantasy? Is it the idea that all it takes is some expensive clothes to confer respectability? The staff at Edward’s ritzy hotel do a laughable 180 with regards to Vivian: They go from throwing shocked and contemptuous glares at her in her streetwalker getup to cocking their heads and all but cooing “Awwwww” when she reappears in her new Rodeo Drive wardrobe. Is it a rescue fantasy? Charming (on the surface, at least), handsome, rich Edward plucks Vivian from an unpleasant life and gives her a new start.

It can’t be the supposed romance, can it? Do people really find Pretty Woman romantic? There’s nothing in the least bit sexy in watching Vivian seduce Edward — it’s embarrassing, actually. And even worse is the scene that’s meant to be the turning point in their relationship, when, after many days of banging him, she finally consents to kiss him on the mouth. The relentlessly cheerful depiction of prostitution is revolting. (There is a hilarious moment, I must admit, when we see the exterior of the cheap hotel where Vivian lives. Some of the neon letters of the building’s sign are blanked out: “TEL,” to be precise, is dark. So the sign simply reads: “HO.”)

Sure, they end up falling in love — or she does, anyway, so much so that she’s offended when he suggests she come back to New York with him, where he’ll set her up in an apartment. Imagine: she takes his money to sleep with him for a week, and then she’s upset when he treats her like a whore.

Perhaps Pretty Woman represents for women the ultimate (for some) fantasy of changing a man into your Prince Charming. Vivian relates her childhood dream of rescue by a knight. “I want my fairy tale,” she says as she refuses to continue to be Edward’s whore. He obliges, momentarily, anyway, riding to her metaphoric rescue in a white limo.

But like the aforementioned female fantasy, Vivian’s is sure to have a dark side, too: Imagine Edward and Vivian’s relationship a year on, when she’s complaining that she talks to his secretary more than she talks to him, and he’s still trying to appease her with expensive gifts. They’re a match made in divorce court.

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