Why I Hate Pretty Woman (1990)

by Lolo de Sucre on September 6, 2011 · 12 comments

in Great Sex Work Moments in Pop Culture History, Movies, Reviews

So, my apologies for showing up a little late to the Pretty Woman threesome. I hadn’t realized how painful it would be to watch this movie again, and so I had to take it in small bites over the course of the week.

I had already been a hooker for a couple years before I ever saw Pretty Woman  a few months ago. Even before I had seen it though, I’d casually reference it all the time with my friends when we’d make fun of tricks who thought they could be our boyfriends. Yes, I know this happens in real life, and even has happened to a couple of my friends. But it’s never come even close to happening to me, especially not with the kind of guys who’d be into “saving” me.

My boyfriend finally made me watch it one day several months ago, and I was even more grossed out than I had expected.

The film’s one saving grace: Julia Roberts is incredibly, uniquely beautiful. It somewhat mitigates the torture of listening to her slip in and out of an unplaceable generic “tough girl” accent (doesn’t Vivian say once she’s from Georgia? doesn’t sound like it…) and a super lame script. (By the way, drooling over Sasha Grey was the most redeemable part of The Girlfriend Experience, too.)

Some of the things that make me cringe, roll my eyes, or just say “huh?”:

1. Richard Gere. He grosses me out so badly through this entire film. See the pic above from the characteristically condescending look he gives whenever Vivian makes some sort of social faux pas. To his credit, he totally nails the role of the asshole trick who thinks he’s like the best thing that ever happened to you because he “sees you for who you really are,” or something. I had a client write me an email once about how he doubts anyone ever saw my beauty the way he did or appreciated me for who I really was. Gross!

Richard Gere is either an awesome actor, or actually drew from a wealth of life experience paying hookers and then thinking he’s a godsend for treating them kinda sorta like actual people. He really nailed it though; every time he looked at her like that I cringed as if he were my very own client.

2. Dead hooker in the dumpster, crack, etc. Every negative stereotype about prostitution is hastily dumped into the first scene that introduces Vivian. A seedy street corner. Crack. A dead hooker. In a dumpster. How perfect! I wonder how many creative and hardworking Hollywood minds it took to come up with that image.

And, oops, that was actually the second real shot of a day in the life as Viv. Just prior to that, as she’s getting ready in her bedroom, the camera casually pans over snapshots of her happy and wholesome pre-ho days, where she’s a smiling, healthy looking girl with her arms around a guy whose face is scratched out of the photo. This, you see, indicates, that once upon a time she looked like a bright and cheerful middle-class girl who happened to fall in love with a bad seed. She might still be salvageable.

3. Kit saying “maybe we should get a pimp” shortly before Ed first pulls his car up to the curb. Huh? Do women really just talk about “getting a pimp,” casually like that? Especially for such a tough and pseudo-independent character as Kit, this seemed out of place and ridiculous, like a last-minute attempt to throw in one more element of street hooker culture. The writers knew this practice existed but couldn’t really figure out how it worked. Just throw it on in there!

4. Vivan doesn’t use a stage name. OK, maybe this seems nit-picky, but it’s kind of a weird oversight, no? A scene of her opening up to him, admitting her real name and letting down the guard of her work persona could have added a little emotional complexity to the film, also letting civilians in on an important element of hooker life they might not be familiar with.

5. She doesn’t insist on getting paid for the week upfront. Again, perhaps nit-picky to those in the audience who are not actual prostitutes, but this struck me as totally insane. You’re seriously going to spend an entire week with this guy without asking for a dime upfront? What’s up with these girls’ business practices? It furthers this idea of hookers as just a class of undesirable people, rather than as workers with standards and practices and some say in how their business is conducted.

6. The way she hastily tries to get down and dirty as soon as they get to the room the first time. Come on, she’s being paid by the hour! If directors had bothered consulting with a real live ho, they’d know how much dawdling goes into an hourly session. Being a ho isn’t about having an out-of-control libido, it’s about cash. Period.

7. “Why do guys always know how to hit a woman right across the cheek, wham, and it feels like your eye is gonna explode?” Vivian asks Ed this after Jason Alexander’s character attacks her. Vivian, being a prostitute and all, is naturally quite accustomed to men hitting her. “Do they pull you aside in high school and show you how to do this?” But Ed explains to his bewildered damsel in distress, “Not all guys hit.”

It’s totally true! I know this is shocker to many of you hookers out there reading, who are so used to being beaten daily by your clients. But listen up: Ed is right. Not all guys hit. You should find one who doesn’t and marry him (preferably a rich one).

8. Vivian crying at the opera. This is when you know for sure that the “heart of gold” part is true, and she’s not just some dumb ho with no soul. Because when Vivian goes to experience elitist, expensive entertainment, she totally gets it. This scene wouldn’t have been so touching had she teared up at, say, a rock or jazz concert, or any other kind of show that doesn’t appeal exclusively to an educated upper-middle class audience. Opera is perfect. Not only is Vivian sensitive and pretty, but underneath that rough exterior, she’s got the heart and soul of a bona fide good little rich girl. Ed sees wife potential!

9. Vivian deliberately leaves her $3k in Ed’s room and storms off after he makes her mad. Huh? So she already wasted all this time with him, and then when he acts like a douche bag, she leaves her cash, to teach him a lesson or something. Ridiculous. Vivian isn’t a hipster-hooker who’s trying out the lifestyle for a thrill—she’s a struggling streetwalker living in a world of murdered co-workers, crack dealers, and (apparently) dudes hitting her across the face on a daily basis. Despite her dealing with these awful conditions in order to make money, we’re still supposed to believe that she’d walk out on $3,000 if it meant making Ed feel like an asshole.

10. “You could be so much more.” Perhaps the most nauseating conversation of the film is Ed and Viv’s post-coital discussion on how her life got to be so miserable. She fell in love with the wrong guy, followed him to L.A., met Kit, and started working. Her first night, she “cried the entire time.” Violins weep in the background; Ed listens intently. It was never her childhood dream, she says (we later learn this is isn’t true),  but she got used to it.

And then he says it: “You could be so much more.” We’re not totally sure what “more” is. Vivian expresses no other career aspirations or interests. We actually don’t know a whole lot about what she does in her spare time, when she’s not singing in the bath tub, eating steak with ketchup, getting beat up or sucking cock. But she sure is cute, and maybe that’s all Ed needs to see in order to know she’s got the potential for greatness.

Being “more,” turns out to mean being a kept woman, girlfriend, or wife, whatever we’re supposed to understand happens when the film is over. No, sillies, being “much more” doesn’t have anything to do with being independent or having a career. It means having a rich guy by your side.

11. The only gun in the movie is wielded by a black guy. Let’s throw in any extra stereotype, just for good measure.

 

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

TastyTrixie September 6, 2011 at 4:52 pm

LOL – my favorite part: “. . . he totally nails the role of the asshole trick who thinks he’s like the best thing that ever happened to you because he ‘sees you for who you really are,’ or something. I had a client write me an email once about how he doubts no ever saw my beauty the way he did or appreciated me for who I really was. Gross! . . . . every time he looked at her like that I cringed as if he were my very own client.”

Reply

Miss Trotwood September 7, 2011 at 9:02 am

IIRC, the aria that makes her cry is ‘Amami, Alfredo’, which is said courtesan declaring her love for her suitor and agreeing to renounce the life of a good-time girl. Subtle, Hollywood, subtle.

Reply

Elle Elle September 8, 2011 at 5:21 pm

Hmm, I like both of these Pretty Woman takes, but definitely the most unlikeable part for me is Richard Gere. He really did nail it, or yeah, is just a doucher.

Reply

ana September 10, 2011 at 8:57 pm

Has there been any film or television (indie OR big studio) that tackles the story of sex work in a remotely accurate manner with a good story too? I’ve yet to see anything… there were a couple of eps of that show from the UK (Secret Diary) that were all right, I thought.

Reply

jane whatsername September 11, 2011 at 12:39 am

have you’ll seen ‘satisfaction’ a tv series set around the workers in a melbourne brothel (australia) it is a soap opera to be sure, but is actually very good and deals with some realistic issues. It goes a little ridiculous after he second series, and they re all super rich and super hot, but it is tv. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6YUoE4yierA

Reply

Sexworker Marc September 11, 2011 at 5:57 am

Thanks for de-constructing Pretty Woman Syndrome (PWS).

Reply

Raven September 22, 2011 at 5:09 am

Damn, girl, you are right! You saw shit I didn’t see. Badass!

Reply

Raven September 22, 2011 at 5:10 am

I am going to save your blog so that I can read more. You are like “Racialicious” to me, except you speak truths about us real life sex workers. Damn, your blog is insightful, intelligent and ADDICTIVE!

Reply

Mohamed Fawzi September 24, 2011 at 10:29 am

Brilliant!
The criticism, the insight is correct and to the point.
Whoever wrote this must have had Art studies or is a natural !

Reply

Mohamed Fawzi September 24, 2011 at 10:35 am

Please oh… puhleeze …. want to read what you have to say about the escort movie of Candice Bergen …
she plays the madam and I forgot the movie name but it was very watchable

Can you please ….?

Reply

Djoser September 30, 2011 at 4:24 am

I just hated this movie instinctively, deeply, immediately. It made me want to smash the television, but I was at a friend’s house and she might have gotten pissed about that.

One of the worst films I’ve seen in my entire life. It was so obviously, utterly contrived. About as unrealistic as a movie could get, and I knew that long before I ever worked in the sex industry. Nice to see the exact reasons it sucked monkey balls broken down in such a cogent fashion by SuzyHooker.

And yeah Gere is the consummate douchebag, in this as much as in any of his films.

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: