Sunday, June 16, 2013

Pretty Woman (1990)

Director: Garry Marshall                              Writer: J.F. Lawton
Film Score: James Newton Howard              Cinematography: Charles Minsky
Starring: Richard Gere, Julia Roberts, Hector Elizondo and Laura San Giacomo

Something very strange happened when I read Garry Giddens’ review of Pretty Woman in The Village Voice. Compelled by his position on a national stage, in a magazine of national repute, I had the distinct impression that, regardless of how he might have really felt about it, he thought it necessary to denigrate the film. In terms of political correctness, he had no other choice. There was no way he could celebrate a film about a woman who has chosen to be a prostitute and who relies on a man to “save” her from that life. It’s too much of a fairy tale. To his credit, he does realize the story is an allegory of Cinderella, but that wasn’t enough for him to support the film. For me, however, it’s more than enough.

Screenwriter J.F. Lawton had only one screenplay produced before this, and as I wrote about Outbreak, it probably worked to his advantage in avoiding clichés and still managing to head right down the middle of genre conventions. Of course Garry Marshall--the voice of the bum outside “Stalone’s” house--is a comedy veteran and directing a romcom was right up his alley. His previous films were the wacky comedy Overboard, and the tear-jerking Beaches. In Pretty Woman he manages to bring balance to both aspects and in the process created one of the classic romantic comedies of all time. Julia Roberts was a virtual unknown at the time, and this was her breakout film. Gere, on the other hand, had found his career failing to live up to its early promise, and this film gave his career a needed boost.

Roberts plays a prostitute in Hollywood, and when corporate raider Gere gets lost looking for his hotel, she propositions him, he accepts, and a week later the two wind up in love with each other. In between is a deal that Gere is attempting to close, buying out Ralph Bellamy’s company and breaking it up to sell off. Jason Alexander plays Gere’s cutthroat lawyer, while Laura San Giacomo plays Roberts’ best friend. Reuniting with Gere from American Gigolo is the great Hector Elizondo as the hotel manager and, as Giddens rightly interprets, Roberts’ fairy godfather. Needing an escort for his week in L.A. Gere hires Roberts for the next five days and while he shows her a way out of the life she’s leading, she also shows him a new way of looking at the world.

In the allegory Roberts is Cinderella, a lowly woman with little self-worth. The handsome prince is Gere, seeing something in her that she doesn’t see in herself. Aiding her in her rise to elegance is Elizondo, who helps her buy a dress, teaches her etiquette at the dinner table, and generally allowing her the room to learn and grow. The film is full of humor, and not all at Roberts’ expense, as Giddens seems to think. It’s also very much a product of its time, the late eighties excess and the widening gap between the rich and poor. But Pretty Woman is certainly not a commentary on society, nor was it meant to be. It’s a fairy tale, plain and simple, and as a romance it’s everything we could hope for, a tale of redemption and possibility that puts a smile on our faces and love in our hearts.

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