There”s a scene in the underated rom-com opus, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, where the titular gal pals take in a midafternoon, bed-ridden screening of Pretty Woman. All dolled up in assorted food-themed earrings and teased hair, the blonde BFFs, sit and laugh at the so-called classic because as the less jaded of the over-bejeweled twosome (Michele) says, even though they’ve seen it “like, 36 times, [they] never get tired of making fun of it.”
As they sit and smirk at the screen, Michele’s partner-in-fashion-crimes (Platforms at the gym? As if!) points out the ridiculously sad music that plays after Julia’s character leaves that high-end store, empty-handed and still-decked in her monokini dress and well, hooker boots (the staff wouldn’t serve her or her skanky outfit, although she claimed to have cash to burn). But then that infamous, euphoric shopping spree scene comes on their criminally small TV and suddenly, Michele changes her charmingly empty mind and her superior smirk turns into a genuine smile. Romy gives her a death stare for it, but she keeps giggling, explaining sheepishly, “I just get really happy when they finally let her shop.”
When it comes to Pretty Woman, you’re either a Romy or a Michele – totally cynical and doubtful or sort-of into it in a totally shallow, guilty-pleasure way. Because, despite all it’s “classic” claims, it really isn’t that great. Sure, it’s cute and sorta funny, but that’s about it. In fact, if it hadn’t starred Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, it probably wouldn’t have registered on anyone’s radar. Or at least ended up in the bottom of a Wal-Mart DVD bin with the rest of the early 90s dramedy rejects.
Let’s face it, Pretty Woman is pretty dated. The storyline, a prostitute Pygmalion (Roberts’ lady-of-the-night heroine, Vivia, meets lonely, older business dude, Edward, who sweeps her, and her rubber-filled pleather shoes, off her feet and introduces her to the finer things in life – credit cards, operas, horse races and L-O-V-E) has been beaten to death repeatedly by the romantic comedy genre (see: She’s All That or any movie that features a hooker-with-a-heart of gold). In addition, Vivian’s clothes are 90s garish – even for a former streetwalker. And don’t get me started on the cinematography, which is a victim of the late-80s haute haziness. Oh, and who can identify with jamming out to a Prince tape on your Walkman, anymore?
But I digress. Despite the obvious time warp-y feel, Pretty Woman can still be charming, especially when you look at Gere and Roberts’ endless chemistry. Like every Eliza Doolite/Henry Higgins in history (well, that I’ve seen anyways), the duo have the perfect love-hate relationship. They bicker and make fun of each other constantly, but deep down, they really respect each others quirks, they’re just afraid to express it directly. And when they do, it’s sort of awkward awesome. Like when Edward presents her with that beautiful necklace before heading out to opera house, but closes the box on her hand before she can touch it. On cue, Vivian giggles like a school girl – half-scared, half-tickled-pink – and we fall in love with them both.
Apparently, Roberts and Gere improvised that well-known exchange. The director (Garry Marshall – who just reunited with Roberts on Valentine’s Day) just loved it so much, he kept it in the movie. And no wonder. It’s brilliant. There’s a reason those two signed on to do Runaway Bride years later. And we all know it wasn’t the script.
The real problem with Pretty Woman is that it really is nothing more than a PG-13 fairytale. From the minute Edward picks Vivian up, we know we aren’t going to be treated to another sleazy tryst (I mean, the theme song is Roy Orbison, for God’s sake). And even when they’re relationship gets strained, we know that somehow these two are going to end up together in some sort of urbanized princess setting (Hello, ghetto fire escape!). Although yes, it’s nice to see a happy ending, it’s also kind of boring. Especially in today’s post-(500) Days of Summer cinematic world.
Although plenty of rom-com purists still sing its praises, after re-watching Pretty Woman for like, the 20th time, I’ve decided that I’ll always be a Michele. I have always been morally obligated to love it a little bit because I’m a big fan of Miss Roberts (I wrote a post-Erin Brockovich speech about her career for my Grade 6 public speaking competition. I’m still surprised I didn’t win that baby). And yes, part of me loves seeing tell those Rodeo drive bitches off in her brand-new outfit. But I think that’s because I love Julia. Not Vivian.