By Adam Donato
Pretty Woman is directed by Garry Marshall, written by J.F. Lawton, and was released on March 23, 1990. The movie stars Richard Gere as a rich businessman who hires a goofy prostitute (Julia Roberts) to be at his beck and call for the week. From a budget of fourteen million, Pretty Woman made about $463 million worldwide and has become one of the most iconic romantic comedies of all time.
The driving force of this movie is the chemistry between the two romantic leads, Roberts and Gere. Roberts excels in this role as her fun personality and genuine vulnerability make her a joy to watch on screen. These qualities make her feel utterly relatable, which is a great achievement as most people would generally say they have nothing in common with a prostitute. Gere, as the straight man in this comedic duo, brings a dignified presence to this movie. Both characters have nice arcs as Roberts gives up her life of prostitution to go back to school before getting rescued by her knight in shining armor and Gere gives up his seedy business ways by diverting from his greedy lawyer to help save an old man’s naval business.
This romantic comedy stands out as the protagonist has a quite unconventional career choice. It was handled very well in the sense that the film paints her as “the safest and most self-respecting hooker on the market”, which helps. In an earlier draft of the script, Roberts’ character was to have a cocaine addiction. This was supposed to be an added conflict in the story as she was to struggle with staying sober during her week with Gere. Even darker, Roberts’ friend was supposed to overdose while she was away with Gere. While this would’ve been beautifully tragic, the film took the safer route. Roberts becomes more redeemable by the end by giving up her career as a prostitute, in favor of going back to school to get a real job. While some people may not be able to root for a prostitute, the film does a very good job of making a generally unfavorable character into one that we are rooting for by the end. The consensus is the Roberts does pull this character off as she was nominated for an Oscar and even won a Golden Globe for her performance.
The antagonist in this movie is Jason Alexander, pre-Seinfeld. His character is meant to be the devil on Gere’s shoulder as he tries to gut the old man’s naval business, while they’re still vulnerable. Alexander does a good job with what he is given. It’s just a shame that his character is made so one dimensional towards the end. There’s a route this movie could’ve taken, where you understand, from a business standpoint, why Alexander is doing everything that he is doing. Alas, once we see him force himself upon Roberts, the grey area that his character operates in this movie disappears and he is kicked out the door by Gere to the audience's delight. Then again, who’s asking for a complex antagonist in a cheesy 90’s romantic comedy.
As a whole, this movie works on every level. The writing, while standard romantic comedy fare, pulls off having such an unconventional protagonist. There are many callbacks in the movie that feel very satisfying. While the chemistry between the leads is very real, Marshall deserves a lot of credit in directing their performances. This movie is laugh-out-loud funny and the romance is sweet. Taking a grossly rich businessman with a goofy prostitute and making them feel relatable is this film’s crowning achievement. Their relationship is utterly sweet and is one that is hard not to root for.
Overall, Pretty Woman deserves to be on the Mount Rushmore of romantic comedies in movie history. Being able to hold up so well after thirty years is quite impressive. Roberts and Gere are electric together on screen. Avoid this movie if you are an over the top moral conservative or if you are just not into romantic comedies. Otherwise, Pretty Woman is rightfully iconic and deserves to be seen.
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