Garry Marshalls hit romantic comedy might have some questionable sexual politics but Julia Roberts remains a magnetic breakout
There are a lot of fantasies at play in Pretty Woman, the hit romantic comedy that transformed Julia Roberts into one of the biggest stars in Hollywood virtually overnight 30 years ago. Its a fantasy about a humble Georgia girl getting her fairytale ending. Its a fantasy about upward mobility on the streets and salons of Beverly Hills. Its a fantasy about turning Roberts herself into a modern-day Audrey Hepburn, prim and elegant and absolutely certain to know which type of fork is appropriate for each course. (Count the tines.)
But the most unlikely fantasy of all is Roberts playing a Hollywood Boulevard streetwalker who really isnt that kind of gal. Roberts plays Vivian Ward, an 11th-grade dropout who lives in a flophouse with Kit (Laura San Giacomo), her irreverent best friend and prostitution guru. The film makes it clear that shes new to sex trade, that she doesnt do drugs, that she doesnt have a pimp and that she enjoys complete agency over the questions of who, when and how much. Late in the film, after Vivian has spent a week at the Beverly Wilshire with a rich client, Kit tells her: You sure dont fit in on the Boulevard lookin like you do. Not that you ever did.
Like all the classic Old Hollywood romantic comedies, Pretty Woman is about a man and a woman who are locked into a flirty but contentious struggle to get on equal footing, with the woman usually at a disadvantage. Director Garry Marshall makes vintage entertainment an obsession for Vivian, who guffaws infectiously at old I Love Lucy episodes and falls asleep watching Hepburn and Cary Grant in Charade. Marshall and his screenwriter, JF Lawton, are preoccupied by turning Vivian into a picture of innocence not a sex worker who hits the lottery, but a naif who discovers the proper lady she always was.