It’s 2015. That means films from 1990 are 25 years old now. And it seems like not so long ago that Julia Roberts announced her presence to the world as a leading lady in Pretty Woman (1990). She first appeared as a fresh faced ingenue in Mystic Pizza (1988), in which Roger Ebert tapped her as a potential Hollywood A-Lister. Ebert proved prescient with this prediction. Pretty Woman is somewhat loosely based on the traditional Cinderella tale, in which a downtrodden woman transforms into the belle of the ball.
As hard as it is to believe, back in 1990 – it was considered fine to apply this tale to a prostitute and turn it into a love story. It wouldn’t have worked without either Richard Gere or Julia Roberts. And now we take Pretty Woman as a classic rom-com, a staple of the myriad of options we’ve been blessed with in that genre since then. A woman from a “lower class” gets ‘rescued’ by Prince Charming and elevated to a higher status in life. Of course, the circumstances are always different somehow, although I don’t think “prostitute” was high on anybody’s list to feature in a rom-com prior to Pretty Woman. Of course they dance around the actual subject itself, but it’s implied throughout.
Of course there have been other “hooker-turned-good” films since Pretty Woman like the forgotten True Romance (1993) with Christan Slater and Patricia Arquette. But the vast majority of prostitute-driven films are on the seedier side and veer towards drama rather than the chick-flick feel-good fluff of Pretty Woman. Almost incredibly, nobody seems to remember that Julia Roberts made her breakthrough by playing a prostitute (or at least they don’t mention it). And the film is beloved by the masses, despite its seedy background.
It obviously helps a lot that Richard Gere has a lot of chemistry with Julia Roberts (although I’d find it hard to believe that Gere couldn’t have chemistry with say, a coconut). They made two films together – Pretty Woman and 1999’s Runaway Bride. As recently as 2012, Gere commented that he wanted to make another film with Roberts. Gere is now 65, and Roberts is 47, so the film in question would have to be a little lopsided on the age difference of the proposed characters. It was “acceptable” in Hollywood for their earlier films, as Gere had aged distinguishably and Roberts was the fresh face du jour. But in 2015 Hollywood, this would be akin to making a film like Amour (2012). Maybe I’m overstating Gere’s aging, especially since he’d also be blessed with Hollywood makeup magic. But Roberts almost seems ageless. Her appearance barely has changed since 1990, especially given that 25 years has passed. Oh sure, there’s some signs of age here and there, but she could still pass as the ingenue that she was.
The plot is your standard romantic comedy – two people meet and fall in love despite their strange situation. In this case, it is actually their stations in life. This is a timeless story – told time and time again, with just a few details making the stories different. Eventually, they get together in the end after hijinks. Happy ending. Fin. And despite the simple plot, the prostitute twist, and 1980s-1990s fashion faux pas, the film is still considered a classic by many. Not a canonic classic, mind you. A popcorn classic. A cult classic. It’s one of these rare films that everybody agrees is “good”, but isn’t “great”. Nor should it be required viewing. It’s just enjoyable fluff.
We still need enjoyable fluff like Pretty Woman. The film serves its purpose. Plus Pretty Woman helped to relaunch romantic comedies as a veritable genre powerhouse for Hollywood. There were very few of these in the 1980s, and then a biblical deluge of romantic comedies hit the silver screen in the 1990s (with several of them featuring Julia Roberts, natch).
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Garry Marshall
Studio: Touchstone Pictures