“People put you down enough, you start to believe it.”
As an update, the 2016 version of the 1001 List has finally hit the presses. A few of my existing reviews have been made obsolete in light of some newer additions, so I’ve updated the master list accordingly with a new section to accommodate omitted entries. I also apologize for the lack of reviews on a weekly basis this month, but my schedule is clearing up, so I should be back on a more frequent schedule soon. I’ve actually had a chance to watch quite a few of these movies over the past few weeks, just no chance to sit down and put my thoughts and notes into writing. A lot of it is the time commitment, but often just finding the words for some of these films has become more challenging than I first anticipated, and I need time to think about how to frame my ideas due to the film’s complexity. On an unrelated note, here’s my review of Pretty Woman.
I’ve made well known my disinterest in romance films, particularly films that are singularly centered around romance for the sake of itself. Pretty Woman certainly hits the mark for these types of films, feeling like the culmination of the dominant 80s romance tropes piled into one script. I can’t say I enjoyed the film as a sum of its parts, because a lot of moments were just too hamfisted for this humble critic to accept as fun to watch. Fortunately, however, I was watching the film with someone who enjoys it very much, and I was able to appreciate it for what it aimed to achieve, not what I was hoping to find in it. If you’re ever hoping to enjoy a film that you genuinely expect yourself to deplore, give it a shot with someone who thinks differently than you. It does wonderful things for your sense of perspective. While Pretty Woman won’t be topping any of my personal favorites lists, it’s only fair in a case such as this to critique the film in areas that the filmmaker would hope to be critiqued for, and so I’ll aim to look at the work through this newfound lens of perspective.
Pretty Woman tells the story of Edward Lewis (Richard Gere), a wealthy businessman with his mind firmly on his work. With a history of several divorces and big dollar business decisions, we’re hinted at a history of insensitivity and even boredom in his romantic life as he focuses on his career. He drops by Beverly Hills for a week for a business arrangement, where he finds himself crossing paths with Vivian (Julia Roberts), a prostitute with whom he quickly falls in love for her charmingly blunt personality. As the film progresses, Vivian must navigate through Edward’s high society lifestyle while Richard must learn sensitivity and finding time for the important things in order to find true love. (With a small drop of backstory that Richard is afraid of heights and Vivian lives high up in an apartment building, the movie ends exactly how you would expect.)
Julia Roberts is the obvious centerpiece of the film, and she brings an impeccable performance by all accounts. Not only her style and her charm, but her astonishing wit and fullness of character bring the film its most delightful moments. She’s cute but funny in a way that helps excuse away lackluster dialogue and lets us laugh along to the film’s groaners and cliché bits thanks to her fun commitment to the story. I think one of the biggest problems a script like Pretty Woman could face would be playing its audience against Roberts’ character too comedically and putting forward Richard Gere as a wise protagonist who has to navigate through the zany antics of his female opposite. Rather, the film makes the smart decision to portray the two leads as equals with something to learn from each other. This, too, can be a tiresome trope at times, but Pretty Woman is a film with enough comedy and certainly enough heart to make the overplayed story a bit more lively and surprising, with Julia Roberts only elevating the film’s status with each charming quote.
A more thematic analysis of the film will reveal some surface level wisdom: something along the lines of “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Indeed, Pretty Woman spends a good bulk of its time with Julia Roberts walking through hotel lobbies or fancy clothing stores, paying no mind to etiquette of the “fine establishment” she’s in. Much of the film’s jokes are aimed in this direction: the classic clash of lifestyles gimmick. While some of these bits are more effective than others, it rounds out to about as decent a moral lesson that you could derive from a romantic comedy of this sort. I often believe for such a mainstream film such as this, the promotional tagline lets you know where the theme is headed. In this case, Pretty Woman’s tagline “Who knew it was so much fun to be a hooker?” about hits the mark. Roberts’ character turns out to be the wisest, most sympathetic, and undoubtedly entertaining character in the entire film, otherwise brimming with phonies in boring suits (most often Richard Gere). Beyond this, the film doesn’t have a whole lot to say, but it would be hard to claim that it does, so I’ll give it a pass for achieving its thematic promise.
There aren’t a lot of films on the 1001 List like this one, and I’ve found great respect for the list for rounding out a more varied approach to its romances from what I’ve viewed thus far. However, you can’t doubt the significance of Pretty Woman on American culture, which is why it makes appearances on lists such as these. It may not get a lot of buzz in the snobby, cutthroat world of “fine cinematic discussion,” and it probably doesn’t deserve any, but I’d still call it a fine film. It’s not a film for me, and I doubt I’ll seek it out again any time soon, but it’s a fine film. If your life somehow depended on watching a romantic comedy tonight, Pretty Woman certainly isn’t among the worst calls you could make. Julia Roberts is fun, and it’s far less likely to bring you existential dread, so I’d say go for it.
Films Left to Watch: 919