In his review of the 15th Anniversary Special Edition, John J. Puccio remarked that "Persons attempting to find a reality in 'Pretty Woman' will be sorely disappointed. It's a fairy tale from beginning to end." Then again, aren't most romantic comedies? It's the happily-ever-after that everyone in a less-than-perfect or no relationship always dreams about. And in a rags-to-riches tale involving the heart, "Pretty Woman" is proof positive that if a hooker can go from $100-an-hour tricks to a penthouse lifestyle and a gorgeous man who takes her down from her apartment fire escape and whisks her off on his shiny black steed (well, limo), then there's a Prince Charming out there for everyone.
In "Notting Hill" we'd see the formula work in reverse, with Roberts playing the "princess" and boyish Hugh Grant the peasant. But formulas exist precisely because they work in competent hands, and this is one of Garry Marshall's best directorial efforts. Marshall balances humor with pathos and embraces the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold cliché without getting too cheesy. Or if it does, at least it's a higher quality fromage.
"Pretty Woman" had a certain magic attached to it, both off and on the screen. Writer J.F. Lawton ("Pizza Man," "Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death") hadn't come close to a script of this caliber before or since, and the same could be said of Marshall ("Beaches," "Nothing in Common"). And if you watched Richard Gere and Julia Roberts team up a second time in "Runaway Bride," you know that lightning doesn't strike twice in the same place. The two stars had a chemistry in "Pretty Woman" that seemed a natural extension of their characters, which is why everything seemed so perfect in this film and so routine in their film reunion nine years later.
Gere plays Edward Lewis, a corporate take-over shark who seeks out a crippled company and delivers a crushing blow, then buys the company and sells the assets to make a profit. He's become rich and powerful through a simple, one-word formula: ruthlessness. Edward is a creature of habit, but his life changes the day his routine breaks down. His limo blocked-in at a parking lot, he borrows the expensive car of an associate ("Seinfeld"'s Jason Alexander as Philip Stuckey) and tries to find his Beverly Hills hotel on his own. His route takes him through Hollywood, where hookers must have their own competition for most outrageous billboard clothing that screams, "I SCREW PEOPLE FOR MONEY." Vivian Ward (Roberts) wins the contest, no contest. Her Carnaby Street hat, blond wig, cut-out top, mini-skirt, and near crotch-high F*-me boots would normally be enough to scare Edward away. But he needs directions, and she's selling them. Five bucks.
Later in the film Gere remarks how she surprises him, and that very few people surprise him. So there's the attraction. An invitation to spend an hour with him turns quickly into an overnighter, and that soon extends to his entire stay in L.A. Vivian puts him in his place and stands up to him in ways that none of the people who work for him would dare, and he admires that, too. From her perspective, it's the kindness he shows her, the fact that he's Edward around her, and not just another "John." Maybe that's because they connect on several levels. "You and I are such similar creatures, Vivian. We both screw people for money," Edward says, just in case the audience might not have drawn the parallel on their own.
Their banter and interludes together are by turns funny and fraught with sexual tension, though this isn't one of those films that shows or even suggests a whole lot. She's a hooker. We get it. And Marshall's decision to play it subtly was the right one. Maybe his TV background ("Laverne & Shirley," "Mork & Mindy") helped him here, but he also does a wonderful job handling stock characters: the sleazeball who hits on Vivian while she's with Edward because he knows she's a hooker; the night elevator operator (Patrick Richwood) who sees all and perceives more; and the hotel manager (Hector Elizondo) who, despite wanting to rid the hotel of prostitutes, treats her with such respect that a friendship develops. It's a chick flick, to be sure, but a darned good one that's full of sharp writing, great acting, and memorable moments. And can you believe the film is almost 20 years old?
Like a hooker, "Pretty Woman" just hasn't aged gracefully. Whether it's the atmospheric conditions under which some scenes were shot, a cheaper film stock, or the transfer itself, the picture quality is really all over the place. Some scenes look fine--as when Vivian shops on Rodeo Drive and the colors are bold, skin-tones clear and natural, and there's a nice amount of detail--while other scenes have a strange light that makes everything look washed out and faded.
The featured soundtrack is an English PCM uncompressed 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit) audio that's a little stronger than the visual image. Aside from the musical numbers that drive montages and segues, there really isn't much more than dialogue in this film--no effects and not all that much, even, in the way of ambient sound. So most of the sound emanates from the center and front main speakers. I wouldn't call the sound "full," but it's far from flat. It's just not as resonant or rich-toned as some of the better releases. Then again, this film, as I said, hasn't aged well. Additional audio options are English 5.1 Dolby Surround and French and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0, with subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish.
If you already have the 15th Anniversary DVD, then you already have the bonus features. But if you're looking to upgrade to Blu-ray, at least you won't lose anything by getting rid of the standard def version. On the director's commentary Marshall, who's never known for his scintillating tracks, pretty much points out people he cast, slaps a few people on the back, and offers far more plot and character summary than he does insight into the filming. He manages to say a few things about his decisions, but film students aren't going to learn much from this track, and anecdote lovers won't get enough stories to satisfy their appetites. The blooper reel (just three minutes long) is also pretty standard. More unique to the film is "Live from the Wrap Party," a four-minute snippet that shows the actors performing the old Animals' tune, "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"--badly, I might add. Another four-minute teaser of a feature, a 1990 production featurette, is little more than a pre-release promo, while fans of Natalie Cole will be amused by her music video of "Wild Women Do." The best feature is "LA: The Pretty Woman Tour," a 10-minute animated map tour that's narrated by Marshall. Fans who intend to visit L.A. will enjoy getting the lowdown on the sites in the film.
"Pretty Woman" was that rare chick flick that turned out to be a good date movie too, with something for everyone. Women had Richard Gere to lust over and the whole fairy tale to embrace, while men had, well, hookers and Julia Roberts. Sounds like a perfect evening. Who needs popcorn?