I generally maintain an attitude of being “not into Chick Flicks.” Which really isn’t true. There are lots of movies I love that are definitely “chick flicks,” like Thelma and Louise, Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion, Mean Girls and most anything from the early 90’s starring Meg Ryan. Also, in light of The Nostalgia Chick’s beautiful series on Meg Ryan and the definition of a Chick Flick, I don’t feel right just dismissing the genre anymore.
Pretty Woman has always had a special place in my heart. Sure, it’s about a hooker and a soulless banker having a completely implausible fairy-tale romance. But I’m a sucker for creative retellings of stories, and this one is pretty straight up Cinderella. Plus, it’s all about Hollywood and Beverly Hills, which I was obsessed with as a teenager. In fact, I’d say that Pretty Woman was a big part of why I wanted to live in Hollywood. Not to be a hooker, just to be in that awesome city. And I’m still glad I did live there. No matter how I got there (or what life was like when I lived there), I am proud that I made that dream come true.
Re-watching the film today as I work on this review, I’m surprised how good the movie still is. The characters are likeable, the story is charming if unlikely, and there are lots of very earnest moments that suck you in to the story. Not to mention there’s that shopping sequence, but we’ll get to that later. And the cool thing about the version I’m watching today is that it includes some cut scenes that I’ve never seen before! I think the movie is far superior in its original version, so I won’t be including the additions in this review. It’s the 15th anniversary edition if you haven’t seen it, although added footage is jarring if you’ve seen the movie as many times as I have.
Our introduction to Edward Lewis (Richard Gere, reminding me that he did in fact used to be pretty hot) is at a party for his company. What we really learn from that scene is that he is an obscenely wealthy workaholic who can’t maintain a relationship with a woman because he’s too absorbed in his job. But he’s still likeable somehow; you get the feeling that he just can’t figure out how to connect with a woman, not that he’s totally self-centered. Also, he has George Castanza as his scumbag lawyer. I know that Jason Alexander has played plenty of despicable characters, but Stuckey the Lawyer is the first one I’ve seen where he is completely unlikable.
Then we meet Vivian. She wakes up in her spacious (but rundown) apartment, gets dressed, dodges her landlord (who wants rent, due at the end of the month) and climbs down the fire escape. There is so much wrong with this sequence, but you’d never know it if you didn’t live there. The Las Palmas Hotel, where Vivian and her roommate Kit live, is a real hotel. It is very popular with real hookers, street performers and the homeless, mostly because of this movie. I never actually got to live there (although Diamond did, for a while, and yes, I was jealous). It isn’t full of giant, spacious suites, and the rooms don’t open on to the fire escapes. Also, you pay daily, or up to a week in advance. And one more thing: California law means you can’t stay in a hotel more than 30 days in a row. I realize they can’t put every detail in a movie, but that apartment was too big, too well lived in and too furnished to be real. The rest of the Hollywood Boulevard locations are pretty accurate, though. Some are still there, some are not.
Once out, Vivian goes to the Blue Banana, a nightclub, where she meets up with her drug-addicted prostitute roommate, Kit. Who is just this awesome side character that I wish we knew more about. I love Laura San Giacomo, mostly because of this movie (although her stint in The Stand and her lead role on Just Shoot Me are also great). There isn’t a bar at all in the area they showed, at least, not currently, if you were wondering (I was, I even took a tour on Google Maps) but the geography is right otherwise.
The scene where Kit and Vivian are on Hollywood Boulevard trying to pick up johns has always bothered me. Maybe it was different when this movie was made, but I knew more than one hooker in Hollywood, and none of them were that obvious. Furthermore, nobody talks about turf in terms of names on the Walk of Fame stars. That’s as n00b a mistake as saying “the biz” instead of “the industry.” No, you talk about it in terms of businesses (e.g. No, you work up by Grauman’s, I work here in front of the Kodak). As for the stars listed – you can see Bob Hope and The Ritz Brothers onscreen with them, which means they are on the south side of the 6700 block of Hollywood Boulevard. Fred Astaire and Ella Fitzgerald are also on that block, so they’re correct in that. However, Esther Williams’ star is way the hell around the corner on Vine. Kit and Vivian are keeping a hell of a big turf.
All right, lets pick up the pace or we’ll never finish (that’s what she said). Edward picks up Vivian and they go back to his hotel. The Regent Beverly Wilshire is a real place, at the juncture of Rodeo Drive and Wilshire. The exteriors are real, although I guess the interiors weren’t filmed there. I wouldn’t know; I never had enough money to walk in the lobby. But I sure as hell went by there when I lived there. Anyway, they go to the penthouse, where Vivian is rushing things through. She quotes him $100 for an hour, but he asks her to stay all night, for which she requests $300. He gives her champagne and strawberries, she flosses her teeth, they watch I Love Lucy, and then they fuck. It’s pretty straightforward. Also she perpetuates the “Hookers don’t kiss on the mouth” story. I know a couple of hookers who used that myth to her advantage to make a little extra money.
The next day, Edward decides to ask Vivian to stay with him for a week and be his escort. Very straightforward business arrangement. After some haggling (and some hideously off-key singing in the bathtub), they decide on $3000 for the week, plus some money for clothes. Sounds like a good deal, especially since it only involves high-class boning with a good-looking guy with all his teeth. That’s a big step up for a hooker in Hollywood, at least, for the kind that live at the Las Palmas and work the streets.
So she goes out shopping. And is denied by two of the coldest, meanest bitches to ever run a small shop on Rodeo Drive. Seriously, how can you not hate them? And here’s the first real stop on our Cinderella retelling – the wicked stepsisters. Who won’t let her shop. My God.
So the music gets very, very sad and a very UNhappy hooker makes her way back to the hotel, where she meets her fairy godmother.
Seriously. Bernard Thompson, Hotel Manager and Fairy Godmother; I bet it’s on his business cards. He pretty much gives Vivian a cover story (she’s staying with her “uncle”) and gives her access to Edward’s room. It’s actually pretty damn trusting. Because really, a cheap hooker who just happened to stay in the penthouse? Yeah, she’s got some cash on her, but that proves nothing. He’s lucky she didn’t rob the place. But I’m getting off topic here. He also calls a friend who works in a department store to help Vivian find a cocktail dress, and even coaches Vivian on her table manners (and use of the correct forks).
So, dressed and prepped, Vivian meets Edward in the lobby. And she looks so classy, Edward does a full-on double take. And maybe now is a good time to point out the overpowering theme of this movie, “Clothes make the man.”Or woman. Or whore.
The way we are introduced to Vivian is an extended getting-dressed montage. She’s putting on makeup, she’s pulling on her tacky, cheap-looking hooker clothes and covering a scuff on her thigh-high boots. She puts on a blonde wig and a big hat. The wig looks cheap to begin with and is fairly ill-fitting. Plus, people who haven’t seen the movie already know she’s a redhead; it’s on the poster.
She’s also stiff and uncomfortable and awkward in her clothes, which says a lot about her. She holds herself with a lot of natural grace, but she looks extremely self-conscious. So really, what we know is that Vivian is probably from a high-class family but has fallen on hard times. She’s not like Kit, who is completely comfortable with who she is, how she’s dressed and what she’s doing. She is practical and pragmatic, and she is also clearly from a lower class than Vivian. Their posture, their movements, and most importantly, the way they are (or are not) comfortable in their clothes. It’s very much like when I worked on the boulevard myself; if I was at ease in the costume people treated me differently than if I felt uncomfortable in my costume. You might actually call it confidence.
Basically, we know that Vivian is putting her prostitution on like a costume. Underneath, she’s a real person. You could even argue that she’s a bit like a princess under a spell, but lets not go too far here. At least it’s safe to identify with her for a mainstream audience. It’s also why you can believe that Edward would fall for her. She obviously has some problems, but she’s not, like, a real whore or anything. She’s awkward and amateurish, and later she even says her first night as a hooker she cried the whole time.
But I’m getting way ahead of myself. Vivian and Edward go out to dinner with the owner of the company that Edward is trying to take over (please don’t make me discuss corporate mergers) and the owner’s grandson. And Vivian is clumsy and awkward in a proto-Zooey “adorkable” way that is naturally both quirky and endearing. And during the business talk we get to see Edward’s–and everyone else’s–increasing fascination with her. Vivian is full to the brim with natural charisma, and that earnest, awkward charm that all the rage these days.
After a little exposition, wherein Vivian recaps the plot and we discuss if Edward does or does not have father issues (hint: he totally does). Later, Vivian goes to find Edward downstairs in the hotel bar, where they do it on a piano. And that sounds uncomfortable as hell, not to mention that I wouldn’t put that much faith in a handwave order for the staff to just leave.
The next day is my favorite sequence – the big shopping makeover. The favorite of a lot of women, actually, and it’s so reminiscent Cinderella’s transformation that you can actually play “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” over the soundtrack and it lines up beautifully. Granted, it’s the “prince” who serves as the fairy godmother in this instance, but it certainly still works. Additionally, there are other references to Disney’s Cinderella in this sequence – the women helping her dress is evocative of the birds and mice that first help dress Cinderella and later make her dress.
This sequence also fits oh-so-nicely into my theory about clothes making the man. when Vivian and Edward are walking down Rodeo Drive, Vivian (in her hooker dress) nervously says “people are looking at me.” But after her glamorous transformation, she doesn’t react when people are looking at her – because they are admiring and respecting her and her classy new duds. Not to mention that she sweeps in to put those cold-ass shopping-denying hooker-disrespecting bitches back in their place.
So, we see a little more of what a phenomenal douchenozzle Stuckey is, and we see that Edward is starting to question his entire life. It’s kind of nice to see a businessman develop a heart. It’s really Edward’s father issues at play here. We learn about his absentee father (later, while he and Vivian are in the bath) and how Edward was very angry with him and eventually got revenge by taking over his father’s company. And then his father died. So Edward actually liking–and respecting–the head of the company he’s trying to take over is really messing him up. Ironically, since Edward hired Vivian explicitly to “avoid any emotional entanglements” and sees her as a business partner, not a potential mate. This allows him to open up more to her than he expects, as he’s got her classified differently in his system. And I think that chink in his armor is why he both falls in love with her, and why he starts rethinking how he got revenge on his father (and entertaining the thought of symbolically repairing that).
The next outing is to a polo match, which brings out a few little echos of My Fair Lady, when Eliza Dolittle goes to the Ascot. Particularly when Vivian does the (terribly dated) “woof-woof-woof” from the Arsenio Hall show. But that’s not what comes out of this scene that matters; what is most important here is what a dick move Edward pulls. He tells Stuckey that Vivian is a hooker. He clearly regrets it immediately, which strikes a chord with me…not that I’ve ever put my foot straight in my mouth and said something asinine. And of course, Stuckey, being a total slimebag, tries to hit Vivian up to “get together sometime.”
And Vivian is pissed. When she and Edward get back to the hotel, she actually tries to leave (not even taking the money she initially demands from him). At first Edward is defensive, but then he sacks up, goes to her and admits he was wrong and apologizes. I always, always have respect for someone who can fuck up, take the hit, own it and apologize. It is really hard to do, but as someone who has had to do it many times, it always hits home. You may remember me pointing out this same action in my Dirty Dancing review. It also is something I think is probably new for Edward – he does not apologize like someone who smooths things over often.
Vivian says something in the course of their argument that also underlines my take on this movie.
Why did you make me get all dressed up?…If you were going to tell everyone that I’m a hooker, why didn’t you just let me wear my own clothes? I mean, in my own clothes, when someone like that guy Stuckey comes up to me, I can handle it! I’m prepared!
I don’t really know how better to express it: clothes make the (wo)man. But I digress (as I tend to.) Once they’ve made up there’s the part I mentioned previously, where Vivian shares her own backstory. It’s a sweet, intimate scene, nicely paralleling the scene in the bathtub, when Edward gives his story. It’s really sweet, the way they see good things in each other that they don’t see in themselves. It’s the flipside of a quote from Edward earlier in the film – “You and I are such similar creatures…We both screw people for money.” They are also both lonely, isolated and emotionally cut off, but inside are hopeful and reaching out for companionship.
Maybe it’s because he treated her like a whore that Edward decides to treat Vivian like a princess the next day. He takes her to the opera (La Traviata, which is about a courtesan–nice touch) and gives her a stunning necklace to wear – borrowed from the jewelry store, and actually worth a quarter of a million according to IMDb. And it’s beautiful and moving and romantic and really, what with the listening to her talk about her feelings and taking her shopping and on glamorous, elegant dates, how could she not fall for him?
And then Edward does something completely out of character (compared to his past behavior, that is): he takes a day off. And spends it with Vivian, doing romantic things like reading Shakespeare in the park (barefoot, as Vivian strips his shoes and socks off, symbolically removing part of his business “uniform.”). Later they ride horses, and he’s in very casual clothes. It’s the first time we see him not in his business suit, and not much is made of it. But that’s why you’re reading this, right? To have me point this shit out? So there he is, stripped of his usual “armor” and being himself with Vivian. Who is also wearing casual (but nice) clothes. It’s the first time they’re just together, not in their respective work clothes, appearing to be themselves completely.
And then the night. Back at the hotel, there’s the scene where Vivian kisses Edward on the mouth and they make love. And it’s touching and romantic and has the only flash of nipple this movie has. It’s beautiful, actually. And Vivian starts out wearing a long, white negligée; extremely bridal. It’s hard to describe a sex scene like this without sounding like a cheap romance novel, so I’ll do what they did and fade to black. I will point out that Vivian does say “I love you,” though I think she thinks Edward is asleep.
The next day is their last day together, and Edward asks Vivian if he can set her up in a condo and come by to see her. She argues that upgrading her status from streetwalker to kept woman doesn’t actually help, and that she “wants the fairytale.” Translated out of the dialogue, she’s changed and she doesn’t want to just be his courtesan, where he “leaves some money by the bed” when he comes through town. It’s sad, seeing her turn it down, but there’s real dignity in her refusal.
And then there’s Kit. Kit! We missed you! She comes to visit Vivian at the hotel (after Edward leaves for work) and actually references Cinderella when she chastises Vivian for turning Edward down (and falling in love with him). It’s a sweet little scene, and I wish that it went on a little longer.
Meanwhile, Edward faces his father issues by deciding to work with the man whose company he’s taking over (Mr. Morris, in case the curiosity was killing you). He earns himself a fatherly pat on the shoulder and the “I’m proud of you” Edward’s own father always denied him. Yay closure to issues! Granted, as someone with father issues of my own, I know that things like that aren’t cleared up so easily, but this is a movie and at least they pay some lip service to it. Also it’s a delightful insult to Stuckey, who completely flips out when he finds out.
Of course, Stuckey tries for revenge by trying to rape Vivian. Which sucks, obviously, but gives Edward a chance to rescue her. I don’t like that she gets rescued, but really, what traditional princess story doesn’t have her be rescued by the prince? And Stuckey is such a little troll he’s practically a cartoon, so it doesn’t offend. Plus, there’s a great moment where Edward hurts his hand hitting Stuckey – showing that he’s never had a fight and has no idea how to punch – and then he fires Stuckey, kicking him clean out of the movie. Edward tries to get Vivian to stay, but she won’t.
So, Vivian goes home, Edward is getting ready to leave, the music is very sad, and they play that Roxette song I listened to incessantly when I was thirteen. It’s a bummer, but really, we all know where this is going. Vivian says she’s moving to San Fransisco to “get a job and finish high school.” She says her goodbye to Kit, slipping her some money and joking that it’s part of the “Edward Lewis Scholarship Fund.” Since we see Kit later talking to another hooker about going to beauty school, I like to imagine she didn’t smoke, snort or inject the money into her body.
And then Edward rolls up to Vivian’s apartment in a white limo with a dozen red roses, calling her “Princess Vivian,” and playing music from La Traviata, climbs up the fire escape to her and they have the epic romantic happily-ever-after kiss. It’s sweeping and beautiful and is definitely one of my favorite ever happy endings. It actually gives me goosebumps and makes me tear up, even now. They even have a romantic little exchange, where Edward asks, “What happened after he climbed the tower and rescued her?”
And there we are. Happily ever after. I loved it before I was a princess slumming it on Hollywood boulevard, and I love it now that I’ve married my Prince Charming and moved to the suburbs. It doesn’t happen often – usually only in fairy tales. And a lot of people point out (accurately) that the chances of Edward and Vivian having a real life together are practically nill. But I don’t care. This is a fairy tale, and she’s Cinda-fuckin’-rella, so I can’t judge it too harshly.