First off, I’m going to fess up and say that Pretty Woman has to qualify as the ultimate guilty pleasure for a card-carrying feminist like myself. (Oh, all right, I don’t actually have a card but you get my drift). Basically, what we have here is Cinderella meets Pygmalion given a big-shouldered, big-haired 90s makeover.
Why is Pretty Woman such a guilty pleasure? Well, for starters, there’s a young Julia Roberts romantically cast as an LA streetwalker. What’s wrong with this picture? Well, how about that Julia has the face and body of a top super-model (for the purposes of this blog we’ll forget the rumours that that’s a stunt body in the opening sequence). She’s clean and fresh and sweet and artless. She still has her pride and she hasn’t got a pimp or a drug habit – despite having been a prostitute on Hollywood Boulevard for an indeterminate amount of time. And I’m not even going to mention the lustrous mane of pre-Raphaelite hair she manages to fit under a tiny blonde wig.
Okay, so far so completely unrealistic.
Next up we have the gorgeous steely-haired and steely-eyed Richard Gere. A billionaire corporate raider with a fear of heights, but no qualms about letting a prostitute he’s just picked up off the streets drive his buddy’s extremely pricey car. And then hiring her for a week to be his ‘beck-and-call girl’ for a cool $3000 and then falling hopelessly in love with her and offering to marry her on bended knee.
Now, when this film premiered in 1990 it got battered by all manner of people for its ridiculous plot, its cheesy denouement, its dodgy sexual politics, yada-yada-yada. Everyone from feminists, to social commentators, to the political correctness police lined up to take a pop at it… And could not figure out why it had cinemagoers, particularly women, lining up in droves to go see it.
Now, funnily enough, all these criticisms are remarkably familiar to me, because as well as being a film buff, I’m also an author for Mills and Boon (if you don’t believe me you can check out my website). So now I’m going to whip off my film reviewer’s beanie and pop on my hopeless romantic’s bonnet and explain Pretty Woman’s big secret… and the reason why women (including ardent feminists like moi) could enjoy it with a clear conscience.
Drum Roll Please.
Pretty Woman, despite all those pseudo-gritty trappings, is one great big chocolate-coated romantic FANTASY and, amazingly enough, most women can tell the difference between fantasy and reality. No, I didn’t get the urge to rush out and become an LA streetwalker just so I could meet my Mr Right. And no, I wouldn’t sell myself for $3000 and a designer wardrobe, just so I could spend a week with Richard Gere in his luxury Beverly Wiltshire Penthouse suite… Or actually… Come to think of it….. But that’s beside the point.
The point here is that I love watching this movie, because I love seeing Julia’s sweet, gutsy girl from the wrong side of the tracks learning to trust men again and getting the Cinderella moment she deserves. And I love watching Richard’s heartless industrialist discovering he does have a heart after all, when bright honest and beautiful Julia (and her body double) comes into his life and shows him what living is really all about. So ta-daa. I give you Pretty Woman. A guilty pleasure without too much guilt. Yes, it’s a fantasy, but it’s done with complete conviction, lots of panache (even accounting for those shoulder pads), two likeably flawed leads and enough of a soupcon of reality to make you believe in their happy ever after.