Oddly enough, this isn’t Richard Gere’s first escort film. He starred in 1980’s American Gigolo, except he was the escort falling in love with the client. Ten years later in Pretty Woman, he’s the on the other side of things.
There’s something interesting about watching Gere, or any movie star, drive around LA asking for directions to Beverly Hills. But here that’s how Gere’s character, Edward Lewis, meets Julia Roberts’ Vivian Ward, a prostitute in Hollywood who lucks into Edward’s life. After showing him how to get to his hotel in Beverly Hills, Edward becomes fond of Vivian and offers to pay her to spend an entire week with him. Vivian can’t say no to his business proposition since she can barely afford her rent.
Edward is a very rich man, staying in the penthouse of the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel. He owns a company that buys other companies in financial trouble. Walking into the prestigious hotel with a woman who’s obviously a call girl turns a lot of heads, and throughout the first day or two Vivian has a hard time adjusting to everybody’s preconceptions. Edward gives her money to buy new clothes on the glamorous Rodeo Drive, but the workers in the shop won’t serve her. Even the hotel’s manager, Barney Thompson (Hector Elizondo), has his reservations about her at first, but he is soon won over by her charm and the two become good friends over the course of the story.
Edward is tired of all the phony people in his life and sees Vivian as a refreshing, salt-of-the-earth change of pace. She lives a life of simplicity, spending most of her time watching movies and I Love Lucy. While Edward works non-stop, barely even sleeping at night. His life slowly changes with Vivian’s influence, much to the dismay of those who work with him.
Roberts is so likable, it’s no wonder she went on to become the star she did. Gere was already well-established, but his chemistry with Roberts is so dynamic. They get a lot of help from J.F. Lawton’s wickedly smart script which doesn’t waste any lines at all, and eases the predictability of the story. We all know what happens, but director Garry Marshall knows how to keep us glued, utilizing the rapport of the two leads to his advantage.
Pretty Woman could have very easily been cheesy, but the sentiments always feel earned and the dialogue is never contrived. We also get some truly great characters, other than Edward and Vivian, who round out this film perfectly.
However, the one little problem inherently built into this premise that can’t be ignored or avoided is the credibility of a poor girl falling in love with a rich man for reasons other than money. Not that she doesn’t love him–we see that develop throughout the movie–but we wonder if maybe she’s blinded by wealth and simply convincing herself that she loves him–no matter how earnest a person she seems to be. Most decisions are made easier with money–especially when trying to figure out your feelings for another person. It’s hard not to love the high life, especially after living it for a week. The script tries as hard as possible to address this issue, but I think the filmmakers can only do so much before just letting the audience trust the characters.
Pretty Woman gets a bad rap, largely due to its all-too-perfect fairy tale premise, but honestly I think people just don’t like the idea of a rom-com that actually works. Or one that shouldn’t be as good as this. But Pretty Woman holds up really well and is entertaining from start to finish. I think it does just fine.