Let’s Talk About Pretty Woman (1990)

by Bettie on August 31, 2011 · 13 comments

in Blast From the Past, Movies, Reviews

Editors Note:
There’s no sex work film as iconic as Pretty Woman, which is why we needed a total of three Tits and Sass-ers to tackle it. We figured we might as well start today, on Richard Gere’s birthday, with Bettie’s thoughts on the highest profile hooker with a heart of gold, followed by Charlotte’s take on Gere’s turn as provider instead of client in American Gigolo, and ending with an anonymous escort’s rebuke to the world Pretty Woman presents. Is there something about Vivian and Edward that still needs to be said after all that? Feel free to leave your own PW thoughts in the comments.

I have to admit, I’m not really a fan of Pretty Woman anymore. I used to be, before I started working. Now, though…

But it’s not because it’s an awful film. Indeed, it’s probably because it’s so good that I find it abhorrent. Even writing this review about it is getting on my nerves. That’s how far I’d like to stay from it at this point.

So, the story (as you all know) goes like this: Woman is a prostitute. Woman gives guy directions and ends up in his hotel room doing what prostitutes do when they are working. Guy’s kind of a dick…or socially awkward, whichever works for you, so he decides that instead of spending the week alone and perhaps trying to get another woman to spend time with him, he’ll just have Woman stay, for $3,000 and use of his credit cards. Woman thinks that’s swell. They spend time together (after she goes through a transformation the likes of Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady…or Sabrina, without the trip to Paris) They fall in love.

The last scene where he’s on the white limo with the rose in his mouth is just, ugh. My nerves are bad. Why didn’t he use the Esprit SE? I would totally fall for a dude in one of those.

OH! You want to know why I don’t like it anymore? Fine, I’ll tell you. I guess I just can’t deal with some of the things we’re supposed to take away from it. Specifically:

Vivian being a hooker with a heart of gold. Why? Because she decides to stay with him without him paying her (ahead of time anyway; he’ll still be paying, she didn’t have a job or a GED)? Does requiring payment for your time/services mean you’ve got a heart of stone? Why? If we live in a world where money is the only actual power a person can wield, with the others being mere figments of the imagination, and men make more of it than the rest of us (mostly) then why is demanding that a man give a bit of his “power” for your time all that bad? Is it only bad because I am a woman? I have a feeling it is.

Edward is a sweetheart underneath it all. No he’s not. He’s a guy with entitlement issues like most of the guys we see. Basically he’s a regular guy. His ability to love a prostitute is why I think people pump him up far more than he should be, and that’s deplorable in and of itself. Prostitutes are people too. Why can’t they be loved? Because they have sex for a living? Please.

Edward is nothing like Phillip, the guy who tried to rape Vivian. Again, no, you’re wrong. They seemed to me to be two sides of the same rich entitled guy coin. Phillip just seemed to have less incentive to treat Vivian like a human, and so he othered her. Doing that made it easy to proposition her on the polo field, because respecting the fact that she’s already with someone and isn’t seeking to be propositioned (at least from what he could tell) didn’t matter (I have a dress like that one that I got from ASOS, btw. I rarely wear it now because people ask if it’s supposed to look like the “Pretty Woman” dress). She’s a whore so she’s always ready, right? When you get off his cock, come jump on mine. Indeed. Him thinking she had enough sway to convince Edward to cancel that business deal was just too much to handle, so he decided to punish her the only way he could think of (because men who think like this are often woefully uncreative): by using sex, the thing he assumed she was using to control Edward, against her.

Vivian was beautiful all along—well, after she got rid of those awful clothes anyway. Dude. I am all for having multiple faces, identities, etc. I am not for people deciding you aren’t worth respecting if you do not put on a face they can deal with. The thing I like is making the choice, on your own, to change your face. Being pressured because people will deny you service or won’t look you in the eye just isn’t right. The idea that you aren’t as human as the woman in a midi dress because your dress has cutouts makes my fucking blood boil. The women at the store who rejected her deserved to lose her business, and everyone else who stared or treated her awkwardly was in the wrong as well.

Before I started working and was just watching it as another girl with fantasies of being rescued from my life of…whatever, I thought it was so sweet! Now, however, as an independent woman who works for herself and gets hives when anyone tried to take the reins from me, I can’t because it seems like she had to do that to become the good girl in this movie. It doesn’t seem like a “feminist version of an upscale princess fantasy” at all to me. I am actually unsure where Glieberman got the “feminist” bit from. All I see is a woman trading one life she didn’t particularly like for one where she’s with a guy she digs but still has to ask for money and isn’t completely in charge. My mom tells me that when I meet a man I love I won’t want to be the only one in charge, and I call bullshit every time. My mom has never been the one cutting her own check, y’all. I am not one of those people who believes love is everything. I am not one of those people who believes wealth without love is nothing, either. I live somewhere in the middle, but I don’t know if that’s as juicy as choosing one or the other. That’s why I don’t write screenplays.

This movie isn’t really for me. But I know lots of people dig it, if only for the escapism involved, so I can’t say it’s complete shit. It’s just kind of shitty.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

chelsea g. summers August 31, 2011 at 2:44 pm

I loathe this movie with an extra-flamey white-hot burning passion and always have.

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Sex Mahoney August 31, 2011 at 8:15 pm

Pretty Woman actually has a pretty subversive message for a mainstream Hollywood film in that it suggests Julia Roberts is not the RIGHT kind of prostitute. While she makes a decent living servicing a wide client base, it is far more lucrative to continuously bill a single, wealthy client. Kind of a grim assessment of marriage, but then again so is being married.

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Bettie Bettie August 31, 2011 at 11:38 pm

How is that a grim assessment of marriage? Sounds pretty spot on to me….

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Iamcuriousblue August 31, 2011 at 11:32 pm

Perhaps the most annoying thing about this film’s legacy is the tendency of every anti-sex work campaigner who somehow thinks they’re being clever to trot out the line “The real world of prostitution is nothing like Pretty Woman!” In fact, I think this corollary to Godwin’s Law is in order: “As an online discussion of the sex industry grows longer, the probability of an argument invoking the unreality of Pretty Woman approaches 1.00.”

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Nine September 1, 2011 at 8:05 am

I watched Pretty Woman again last year for the first time since its release. I found it pretty disposable, but not really as loathsome as I’d anticipated – what bugs me more is, like you say, the frequency with which prohibitionists make reference to it. I put this together a few years ago:

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Nine September 2, 2011 at 6:23 am

Oh, image didn’t work. Here it is: Nine’s Law.

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Miss Trotwood September 5, 2011 at 11:02 am

And here was me about to link to your review, Nine :-)

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Vixen August 31, 2011 at 11:48 pm

I can relate-I used to watch PW the same way I did Dirty Dancing-as an unintentional cheesy comedy. Since becoming a PSO I just get annoyed when I see it. Bad stereotype after bad stereotype, ugh. At least in Showgirls the main character kicked the rapist’s ass.

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Kat Kat August 31, 2011 at 11:51 pm

Every time I put my hair in a slicked back ponytail, I feel like I’m preparing to kick a rapist’s ass.

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Irony Butterfly Irony Butterfly September 1, 2011 at 7:43 am

What I actually find most disturbing is the way they completely reduce her to her job. Like “well, clearly she owns no other clothes than this costume until a customer buys her other costumes. Why would she? Surely prostitutes just wake up, put on their streetwalking clothes and then go to bed again, unless a customer has a weird kink that consists of buying fetish clothes, like a brown and white spotted dress with a matching hat.” She already owns some freaking clothes.

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mumtaza September 3, 2011 at 5:22 am

I love your reviews! I know it’s a little far afield but I’d love to hear your take on “baise-moi”.

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