Pretty Woman (1990)

(On TV, June 2016) As twenty-five years of commentary has it, Pretty Woman is a feel-good romantic comedy featuring a corporate raider and a Hollywood hooker. Any serious look at the film will highlight the differences between the original, somewhat darker script and the one that ended on screens. But what’s amazing is that it actually works: Largely based on the charm of Richard Gere and Julia Roberts (whose star-making turn here eerily echoes her character), Pretty Woman manages to take a biting premise and transform it into a fairytale in which everyone ends up happy, rich and vindicated. Business dealings are innocuous, drugs are avoided, and uncomfortable issues of sex and power relationship are avoided or nullified by even worse behaviour by the film’s antagonists. (Who’s worse? An attempted rapist or a snooty shopgirl?) On some level, Pretty Woman is a case study of Hollywood techniques for disarming anything that may disturb a large audience. On another, it’s a romantic comedy that packages Pigmalion into a set of tropes fit to be absorbed in a Hollywood subgenre (which it did, the film arguably revitalizing the romantic comedy subgenre for more than a decade). Much of it remains timeless, even though Gere’s character still belongs in the eighties, and sharp-eyed viewers will spot newspapers harkening back to 1989’s Panamanian invasion. Despite the film’s darker edges, Pretty Woman still works well as a crowd pleaser. Stranger things have happened between a daring script and a box-office success.

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