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On March 23, 1990, Buena Vista unveiled Pretty Woman in theaters, where it went on to gross $463 million worldwide and earn Julia Roberts a best actress Oscar nomination at the 63rd Academy Awards. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below:
Pretty Woman tackles the lighter side of prostitution, creating a romantic comedy out of a busy executive’s need for submissive female company and conjuring the perfect lifetime companion out of a woman-for-hire.
In plot terms, this somewhat controversial premise resolves itself into a collection of smoothly written vignettes charting the transformation of a streetwalker from vulgarian to sophisticate and thus acceptable wife material for a rich man.
The movie displays an almost preternatural disregard for women’s feelings — call it Pygmalion, with a heavy accent on the first syllable — but the comedy is so slickly delivered that audiences may be content with chuckling over its polished surface charms.
The film also marks the return of Richard Gere to conventional leading-man status, which might add considerably to box-office punch and more than mollify female audience goers. Throw in some squeaky-clean peekaboo sex (the film’s puzzling R rating has nothing to do with nudity), and you have the formula for a box office success.
Gere stars as Edward Lewis, a super-wealthy corporate takeover artist whose hard-driving business practice has just ruined his first post-divorce romance. Lost driving around the streets of Los Angeles, he stops to ask streetwalker Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts) directions. She agrees to do so for $20 and, in a bit of effectively cute business that is the film’s hallmark, ends up driving the shift-fumbling Lewis’ sportscar.
By the time they get to his Beverly Hills hotel, Lewis has decided to make Vivian his paid companion for the week, allowing him to negotiate his way through a series of business meetings that call for sociable coupling.
Eventually, as he falls in love with Vivian, Lewis, all evidence to the contrary, decides money cannot buy happiness and gives up his ruthless stalking of a shipbuilding company, deciding to help the old codger (Ralph Bellamy) who owns it run a productive firm.
Once Lewis and Vivian have hooked up, the plot is locked into an undeterred straight line. Vivian has some trouble adjusting to the high life’s etiquette and dress, but they are minor bumps in the road.
A friendly hotel manager (Hector Elizondo) helps with fork-lifting, while an intimidating flourish of credit cards by Lewis break the icy reserve of snobby Rodeo Drive salespeople.
In fact, director Garry Marshall and writer J.F. Lawton are at such a loss to express the difficulty of class-crossing that they lift the horse-racing scene from My Fair Lady and reinsert it here.
If Vivian’s march to social acceptability is smooth, her climb into Lewis’ arms is steeper, though no less linear. Sleeping together from the start, it is not long before Lewis’ insistence on a cash relationship begins to break down under Vivian’s charms, a development considerably helped by the filmmaker’s decision to make Vivian a naif whose sojourn on the streets has somehow not damaged the innocent little girl inside (and outside, for that matter) her.
Most of Pretty Woman’s activity takes place around the edges, in cleverly detailed comic encounters among the supporting characters.
Vivian’s shopping expeditions (particularly one featuring Larry Miller as a comically obsequious sales manager) and her friendship with an exaggeratingly wisecracking fellow hooker (Laura San Giacomo) as well as Lewis’ encounters with his smarmy lawyer (expertly played by Yuppie-specialist Jason Alexander) end up providing more laughs and, for the latter, almost as much drama as the Vivian-Lewis relationship.
Albert Brenner’s gilt production design is just about the most authentic part of the film, while James Newton Howard’s score gently nudges the emotional development along. -— Henry Sheehan, originally published on March 19, 1990.
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