VALENTINES SPECIAL: APPRECIATING THE ROM-COM WITH THE BEST OF THE GENRE – “PRETTY WOMAN”
Since it’s February the month known as the month of love. I wanted to celebrate Valentines Day by showcasing the best example of what not only my favorite rom-com is but what film defines the essential romantic comedy. Directed by Garry Marshall, starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere is 1990’s “Pretty Woman”. It is the blueprint on how to make the quintessential romantic comedy.
Originally titled $3,000 and meant to be a serious drama. It was turned into a delightful old-fashioned romantic comedy in the hands of director Garry Marshall and sent the career of it’s star Julia Roberts into the A-list stratosphere. Julia Roberts had made her acting debut two years prior to starring in “Pretty Woman” in 1988’s “Mystic Pizza”, two more films followed with 1989’s “Steel Magnolias” and the horror thriller “Flatliners”.
About fifteen minutes into “Pretty Woman” when Julia Roberts is soaking in a tub in a posh hotel, with her Walkman earphones on, harmonizing off-key with Prince’s “Kiss”. Oblivious that Richard Gere’s Edward, is standing by watching her, and like Edward the rest of us become smitten by her. We also completely fall in love with that trademark 1000 watt smile and that infectious laugh. While Edward is losing his heart to her so are we. We fall in love with her and within the sequence we realize that Roberts will be the next big thing in Hollywood. In fact in this scene the detergent used in the tub was so strong that it rinsed the red dye out of Roberts’ hair. She had to have her hair re-dyed later that night.
Richard Gere plays Edward Lewis, who is a suave, extremely wealthy business mogul who, at the start of the picture, breaks up with his girlfriend over the phone after a nasty argument, and abruptly takes his friend’s car and gets lost on Hollywood Boulevard while trying to find his hotel. Stopping the car along the street, he asks a woman, a young prostitute, for directions. Agreeing to get in his car and show him for ten bucks, Edward ultimately accepts, they strike up a conversation, and before long she has been asked up to his penthouse room on the top floor. The meeting does not lead to sex, however, as Edward confides that he’d rather just have someone to talk to, and offers her $300 to spend the night. The hooker, named Vivian (Julia Roberts), is a beautiful and smart. The meeting between the two completely opposite people doesn’t end the next morning as planned, when Edward offers to pay Vivian $3,000 if she will stay with him for six days and nights while he is in the area, keeping him company and acting as his companion to business dinners and get-togethers. Since Vivian firmly tells Edward at the beginning that she will do anything with him except kiss him on the lips, which always leads to unwanted intimacy when dealing with her customers. But this is a romantic comedy so the obligatory rule of the genre is that by the third act, Edward and Vivian will finally truly kiss.
Vivian carries condoms in assorted colors, giggles over Edward’s wealth with her prostitute friend (Laura San Giacomo), Vivian learns table manners and posture from the fastidious hotel manager of Edward’s posh hotel played by the excellent Hector Elizondo in the film’s most memorably funny scene. She even runs amok shopping on Rodeo Drive with Edward’s credit cards. Screenwriter J.F. Lawton’s (who also wrote Steven Seagal’s “Under Siege”) script makes you want to be friends with Vivian. It is impossible not to root for her.
When casting the role of Vivian, Disney didn’t want Julia Roberts for the role. Instead they wanted Meg Ryan. Over the course of production other actresses were considered for the role of Vivian before Julia Roberts got the part. Such as: Kim Basinger, Kathleen Turner, Debra Winger, Geena Davis, Carrie Fisher, Bo Derek, Kelly McGillis, Melanie Griffith, Sharon Stone, Michelle Pfeiffer, Madonna, Jamie Lee Curtis, Emma Thompson, Rosanna Arquette, Heather Locklear, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Joan Cusack, Phoebe Cates, Elisabeth Shue, Tatum O’Neal, Bridget Fonda, Lori Loughlin, Diane Lane, Molly Ringwald, Sandra Bullock, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connelly and Justine Bateman. As much as I respect many of the actresses on the list. I’m for one glad how it worked out, I don’t see anyone else filling the high heel boots other than real-life “Pretty Woman” herself Julia Roberts. She had also received her second Oscar nomination for the role of Vivian, she had been nominated the previous year for “Steel Magnolias”.
Playing sex symbols throughout the ’80s with such pictures as “American Gigolo” and “An Officer and a Gentleman”, Richard Gere branches out to play a more quiet, shy, but alluring character. His swagger is gone, charismatic and he’s more tentative and proper. Gere and Roberts have a subtle and beautiful chemistry, so much so that Garry Marshall reunited Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, nine years later in his excellent rom-com “Runaway Bride” in 1999. Even though their chemistry was obvious upon their first meeting. Gere was not planning on taking the role. He was on the phone ready to turn down the part when Roberts slid him a Post-it note with the words “please say yes” written on it. He accepted the role right right away. At the time of filming, Richard Gere and Julia Roberts were 40 and 22 years old, making them 18 years apart.
Like Julia Roberts, many A-list actors were considered for the role of Edward. Including: Burt Reynolds, Al Pacino, Daniel Day-Lewis, Denzel Washington, Tom Berenger, Christopher Lambert, Charles Grodin, Christopher Reeve, Albert Brooks, Sylvester Stallone, Dennis Quaid and John Travolta who in 1979, had turned down the lead to star in “American Gigolo”, which then went to Richard Gere.
Because “Pretty Woman” stars Richard Gere, who was Hollywood’s most successful male sex symbol, and because it’s about his character falling in love with a prostitute, it is astonishing that “Pretty Woman” is such an innocent movie. It’s essentially one of the sweetest and most openhearted love fables. Here is a movie that could have marched us down mean streets and into the sinks of iniquity, and yet it glows with romance. As said earlier the original premise was supposed to be a dark drama with the original plans, that Vivian was supposed to be addicted to cocaine and part of the deal was that she couldn’t do drugs during the week. This leads up to the end of the movie where Vivian was supposed to find her best friend Kit had overdosed on drugs while she was away with Edward.
The movie’s premise can still be considered controversial. There are so many iconic scenes, like the scene of Edward giving Vivian a necklace and snapping it close on her fingers. Richard Gere has improvised the famous scene where Roberts’s reaction (laughter) was totally natural. The filmmakers liked it so much, they decided to leave it in. But love it or hate it, its cultural impact is undeniable. The soundtrack that includes Go West’s “King Of Wishful Thinking” and the Roy Orbison classic that gave the movie its name, is bopping, and the pacing is breezy.
Aided by Garry Marshall’s glossy direction, “Pretty Woman” is a career defining film for him. Turning it from an R rated dark drama to a modern rom-com update of the “Cinderella” story. Still, the film resonated with audiences by grossing almost half a billion dollars worldwide, becoming a huge blockbuster that propelled Roberts into stardom and eventually becoming the highest paid woman in Hollywood. “Pretty Woman” was showing the rise of a new female Hollywood icon.
“Pretty Woman” is so entertaining, that it has a genuine sweetness and innocence to it. “Pretty Woman” is an astoundingly charming motion picture, and it is definitely easy to see why it became such an overnight sensation with moviegoers. It is a sparkler of a motion picture, and has what it takes to be the instruction manual on how to make the quintessential romantic comedy. Then again no romantic comedy will ever compare or re-create the magic of “Pretty Woman”, which is the genre’s greatest achievement.