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Why I Hate Pretty Woman (1990)

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?”:

Why I Love Pretty Woman (1990)

There are a million implausible moments. The scene in which Vivian and Edward run into Kit’s pimp is Crocodile Dundee levels of ridiculous, and the white knight climbing up the fire escape ending is utter dreck. But frankly, I don’t care about the standard criticisms of Pretty Woman. It’s less sexist than My Fair Lady and yet no version of “Pygmalion,” including that classic musical, takes as much flak as this one. And that makes me suspicious. Beyond the obvious pleasures of songs like “King of Wishful Thinking” and insane late ’80s women’s wear, let me outline a few of my favorite aspects.

Vivan’s giant curly hair. I am a naturally curly girl and never once in my adult life has my hair been in style. It’s all blowouts and permanent relaxers for me for the foreseeable future, at least until I’ve seen a client enough times that they’ll think seeing my natural hair is being let in on some intimate secret about me. But part of Vivian’s transformation involves her flaunting her armload of curls around Richard Gere like it’s a mink stole. This is pro-curl propaganda and the world needs more of it.

American Gigolo (1980)

He usually wears shirts on his dates.

If you guys think Pretty Woman is worth complaining about, you must have never seen American Gigolo. This homophobic, racist mess is an unfortunate turn for my beloved Richard Gere, who may be certifiably Obsessed With Sex Workers. He and Steven Soderbergh and Tina Fey are going to make a pretty wild movie together someday, I can just tell.

But we can’t move into the future without looking into the past, and what a blast from the past this is. This film really ushered in trademark 80s male styles like blousy monochrome suits in grey and…well, that’s pretty much the only style. Also, hideous ties. The opening scenes of Julian Kaye (Gere) are of him in shockingly high-waisted, crotch-hugging silk blend pants escorting around an older lady in a fur. I would love to know what Bettie makes of these “fashions.” Also, there’s no way Gere is riding around with his convertible top down in weather that necessitates his date wearing a fur coat. (As if California weather could ever necessitate such a thing.) We see him and her shopping for clothes—for him, which he badly needs—and then nuzzling goodbye at the door of what appears to be a single level ranch home. Her smile seems to say “Well done! You spent a shit ton of my husband’s money and gave me not a single orgasm.” Welcome to the world of straight male escorting.

Let’s Talk About Pretty Woman (1990)

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.

The Great Happiness Space (2006)

all photos courtesy of the author

One of my favorite male sex worker movies is The Great Happiness Space. The documentary film from 2006 follows the work lives of the staff members of Stylish Club, Rakkyo, one of the top host clubs in Osaka, Japan. The film was shot at a time when male host clubs were becoming more popular and attracting increased media attention. I was interested in the film as I had spent some time between 1998 and 2007 working in hostess clubs in Tokyo.

Friends back home had been indignant when I explained to them the nature of a hostess’ work. By performing a subservient role, they had argued, I was enforcing gender oppression, and shouldn’t I feel bad about that? I was curious to see the flipside, expecting to see a subversion of the gender roles played out in the hostess club where the woman dotes on the male customer. Perhaps I was looking for something to point at to say: Look: it’s OK; the industry caters for women too. I came away from the film thinking more about women in the sex industry, however, than men.