Pretty Woman

(1990) ** R
119 min. Buena Vista Pictures Distribution. Directors: Garry Marshall, Walter Von Huene. Cast: Richard Gere, Julia Roberts, Ralph Bellamy, Jason Alexander, Laura San Giacomo.

/content/films/3328/13.jpgIn her book Down from the Pedestal: Moving Beyond Idealized Images of Womanhood, Maxine Harris argues that female literary archetypes (most of which were created by men) have done palpable damage to women in influencing sense of self and self-destructive behavior. Identifying one archetype as "The Free Spirit," Harris cites Pygmalion and the trap of being constructed by a man who claims to know better. Paired with a half-hearted feminist feint of reciprocity, the masculine heroic rescue returned with a vengeance (had it ever gone away?) in Pretty Woman, the fluffy 1990 romantic comedy about a prostitute who gets a lifestyle upgrade from a millionaire.

Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) has an orderly but emotionally sterile life, buying and selling companies for a profit. One night, out on an impulsive joyride, Edward asks directions from two gum-smacking hookers on Hollywood Boulevard: Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts) and her roommate Kit De Luca (Laura San Giacomo). Edward and Vivian wind up spending the night together in the Regent Beverly Wilshire, which becomes Vivian's home base for an extreme makeover, prostitute edition. At first, hotel manager Barney Thompson is dismayed by Vivian, who parades through the lobby in an outfit made to advertise her wares. But like Edward, Barney is quickly smitten, and he becomes Vivian's style and etiquette guide. Edward decides to offer Vivian $3000 for the week as he goes about a business deal. Vivian tells him, "Baby, I'm gonna treat you so nice, you're never gonna want to let me go." "I will not allow myself to become emotionally involved in business," Gere replies, articulating exactly the opposite of what will happen. The conflict is obvious: despite their growing mutual attraction, does Edward really want to commit to a high-school dropout turned prostitute? Does Julia Roberts have a million-dollar smile?

In her breakthrough role, Roberts is largely responsible for making Pretty Woman an enduring hit. Gere's underplaying makes Edward a good foil for Vivian, and there's sturdy comic support from Jason Alexander as Edward's lawyer, Amy Yasbeck as Alexander's wife, Larry Miller as an unctuous Rodeo Drive shop clerk, and in a tiny appearance as a cop, Hank Azaria (Ralph Bellamy also makes his final screen appearance as a target of Edward's latest hostile takeover).

Orchestrating the sweetness and bringing the funny, director Garry Marshall is at the top of his populist game with this semi-elegant Cinderella story, a dream-factory production if there ever was one. Marshall not only admits this fact, but he attempts to spin it to his advantage. There's Vivian watching Audrey Hepburn on TV (Charade, as Breakfast at Tiffany's would be too on the nose), and the film begins and ends with a guy crossing Hollywood Boulevard, blaring, "Welcome to Hollywood! Everybody comes to Hollywood got a dream. What's your dream?" The use of Roy Orbison's "Oh, Pretty Woman" is basically generic (though anything that gives Orbison attention is commendable); pay more attention to Natalie Cole's "Wild Women Do," positioned as an implict excuse for Vivian's "free spirit" lifestyle: "Wild women do, and they don't regret it." And to class up the picture in ways Hollywood and pop music can't, Marshall employs La Traviata as a civilizing influence on both Vivian and the film itself.

At one point Edward bluntly tells Vivian, "We both screw people for money," a somewhat torturous comparison meant to illustrate that both do amoral jobs for the paydays. And thus, reason screenwriter J.F. Lawton and Marshall, the two need each other's love to bring out their soulful desire to be their best selves. What happens after the prince rescues the fair maiden? According to Vivian, "She rescues him right back." It's a darn good save, but alluding to Cinderella and Hollywood dreams doesn't give Pretty Woman any weight: quite the opposite. Are we really to believe that a rapacious businessman would get religion after meeting a prostitute? And that a woman who can't or won't or isn't interested in being more than a prostitute is worthy of hitting the "jackpot" with Edward? And what exactly does any of this have to do with the average guy or gal? Believing in love is swell and all, but maybe we're better off not buying the brand Pretty Woman is selling.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Uncompressed 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1

Street date: 2/10/2009

Distributor: Buena Vista Home Entertainment

Disney's Blu-ray debut of Pretty Woman looks pretty good, so to speak. Certainly, the picture quality here is a major step up from previous DVD editions, though some scenes are grainier than others (as a rule, sunlit scenes look crystal clear, while dim interiors or night scenes threaten to get noisy). The uncompressed 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio options serve the film well. There's no question this is the best A/V presentation around for Pretty Woman.

In bonus features, there's an audio commentary by Garry Marshall. This is the track recorded for the 2005 15th Anniversary DVD, and not the track recorded for the 2000 10th Anniversary DVD. Why a second track was recorded is anyone's guess. Both tracks present the hilarious Marshall at good advantage. He's one of Hollywood's all-time best ranconteurs, and a funny actor in his own right; here he shares plenty of history, production anecdotes, trivia, and observations about his intent.

We also get a "Blooper Reel" (2:36, SD) and "Live from the Wrap Party" (4:05, SD), a rough video of Richard Gere (on piano and vocals), Marshall (on drums) and Julia Roberts (vocals) performing "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," followed by Marshall ribbing Roberts.

"L.A.: The Pretty Woman Tour" (9:11 with "Play All" option) presents footage of the locations, introduced and narrated by Marshall. "1990 Production Featurette" (3:46, SD) is the film's original EPK, including interview snippets with Marshall, Gere and Roberts, as well as an excess of clips from the movie.

"'Wild Women Do' Music Video" (4:09, SD) is a vintage Natalie Cole clip, and we get the "Theatrical Trailer" (2:38, SD), presented in a cropped, washed-out form.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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