“Cinde-fcking-rella!” – Pretty Woman Revisited

A few days ago I watched Pretty Woman for the first time since I was 11. I hated that movie when I was a kid. Mostly, I think, because it was a popular movie. I was not a kid who usually enjoyed things that were popular. Or, to put it bluntly; I was a snobbish kid. But I’m glad that I overcame my initial dislike of the movie and watched it again, because, you know, it’s actually not a half bad movie.

I read Roger Ebert’s review after watching it, and Ebert makes the point that for a movie about a man starting a relationship with a hooker, Pretty Woman is surprisingly innocent. I can see what he means, but I feel slightly different about it. For me, what’s surprising about the movie is how naturally it seems to linger between “innocent” and “really kind of naughty”. Which admittedly may have to do with how I remembered it from watching it as a kid. Here’s how I remembered the story:

  1. Richard Gere is a rich guy who picks up Julia Roberts, who is a hooker in a terrible blond wig.
  2. Richard Gere is a noble sort of fella, so he doesn’t want to sleep with Julia Roberts, he just pays her to hang out with him.
  3. They hang out and go to the opera to see La Traviata, which moves Julia Roberts to tears. They fall in love.
  4. Richard Gere lets it slip to George from Seinfeld that Julia Roberts is a hooker. George from Seinfeld attempts to buy sex from Julia Roberts who gets upset.
  5. But eventually she forgives Richard Gere.
  6. Something about a sort of staircase? And then a happy ending.

Which is mostly how it plays out, with the notable exception of item no. 2 because Richard Gere’s character TOTALLY HAS SEX WITH JULIA ROBERTS’ PROSTITUTE CHARACTER! And this is not even after he gets to know her and falls in love with her or anything. He has sex with her on the same night that he picked her up from a corner of Hollywood Boulevard. She’s still wearing her awful Hooker Wig while they go at it and everything. So what we have on our hands is a mainstram movie in which the hero, played by one of Hollywood’s favourite leading men (at the time), wittingly buys sex from a prostitute, and I find this to be infinitely more interesting than the Noble Guy Buys Hooker Free story that I thought I remembered from my childhood. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t approve of prostitution. I’m about as anti-prostitution as you can get. But I like it that the movie doesn’t shy away from the prostitution angle. It’s more honest that way. If you’re going to make a movie about a guy picking up a hooker, you may as well go all the way. When men pick up a prostitute, it’s usually with the intention of having sex with her, and it would be a travesty to claim something different for the sake of creating a noble movie hero.

“Man, this baby must corner like it’s on rails!”
But the innocence that Ebert mentions is certainly there as well, I agree. It’s especially present in the chemistry between Gere and Roberts, which is quite outstanding. And the cool thing is that it’s not really a sexual chemistry. Of course an element of sex is there, but more than that there’s a kind of buddy-buddy chemistry, and it’s adorable and maybe ulitmately what makes the movie work. Gere and Roberts have a natural, friendly way of being with each other that makes them believable as a couple in spite of the unrealistic rich-dude-falls-for-hooker plot.

It’s there right from the start when they are driving around in Edward’s car. Sure, Vivian grabs Edward’s crotch and announces that “[it’s not quite stiff], but it’s got potential” (which strikes me as such an early 90s movie sex joke, btw, in all its vulgarity. This was clearly the same era that brought us a full view of Sharon Stone’s hoo-ha), but they also talk about cars and other a-sexual stuff, like the fact that your foot is as big as your arm from your elbow to your wrist. And the “jewelry box” scene where Edward solemnly present Vivian with an expensive necklace, only to jocularly snap the box lid down on her fingersĀ  is the epitome of this sweetly goofy and buddy-like atmosphere:

Imdb informs me that the finger-snap thing was a case of improvisation on Gere’s part, and that Roberts’ reaction is authentic. The fact that the scene works anyway goes to show how comfortable Gere and Roberts must have been with their respective roles.

“Stay. Stay the night with me. Not because I’m paying you, but because you want to.”
As a natural result of the fact that Richard Gere’s character TOTALLY HAS SEX WITH JULIA ROBERTS’ PROSTITUTE CHARACTER, there’s also the side plot of Vivan falling for someone who is essentially a customer. It’s not too badly handled, I think. There’s that whole thing about her not wanting to kiss on the mouth because it’s too intimiate (which was recently referenced in the hilarious Humpday btw), and Vivian has a monologue about how she’s basically “like a robot” during sex with customers, and later she tells him how she cried the whole way through her first sexual intercourse as a professional. Roberts does a decent job at depicting her journey from robot-like escort to actually being in love with Gere and wanting his touch instead of just accepting it. It’s a truly sweet moment when she finally allows herself to kiss him. Edward, too, has obviously been longing for that kind of intimacy with Vivian.

Still, of course the issue is not depicted in a realistic manner. It’s not supposed to. It’s a fairy-tale, and the movie owns up to as much in this nice little piece of dialogue between Vivian and her prostitute friend Kitt:

Kitt: “Maybe you guys could, like, you know, get a house together, and like… buy some diamonds and a horse, I dunno… It could work. It happens.”
Vivian: “When does it happen, Kitt? When does it really happen? Who does it really work for? (…) You give me one example of someone that we know who it worked out for.”
Kitt: “You want me to name someone? You want me to, like, give you a name or something?”
Vivian: “Yeah. I’d like a name.”
Kitt: “Oh God, the pressure of a name…”
(pause)
Kitt: “Cinde-f*cking-rella!”

This also accounts for the happy ending where Edward mounts that staircase and wins Vivian’s heart, which is very, very saccharine, but still not quite as bad as the ending of Dirty Dancing (which I loathe. And I do think that Dirty Dancing has its qualities. But that ending, ugh). And I’m actually okay with the use of La Traviata, although I find it strange that Edward chooses Violetta’s second act goodbye as his staircase serenade instead of “Un di felice” which seems much more appropriate in the situation.

The soundtrack is pretty kewl all in all actually, in all its early 90s glory. Who can resist the melancholy pop wonder that is Roxette’s “It Must Have Been Love” for instance? I certainly can’t. I bawled like an infant when that one came on.

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