Blu-ray Review: Pretty Woman (1990)

1990's Most Popular Cinderella Story
Is Now Hookin' You With

Blu-ray High Definition

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"Oh, oh Pretty Woman." The movie that did for Julia Roberts what Paramount Pictures' film Ghost did for Demi Moore-- as of Woman's release, suddenly America had a new sweetheart in the form of the curly-haired redhead with the infectious smile who managed to charm all of us even when she played a prostitute.

A tricky film to cast both for the film's unlikely Cinderella-esque heroine and her corporate knight in shining armor (Richard Gere, naturally)-- initially both Al Pacino and Christopher Reeve turned down his role and the number of A-list actresses who passed on the opportunity to wear Vivian's black magic marker enhanced boots and safety pin wardrobe is legendary.

With Breakfast Club cutie Molly Ringwald declining (but since noting it's a choice she regrets) due to the subject matter-- other top choices like Garry Marshall's ideal Vivian-- Meg Ryan turned it down as did Michelle Pfeiffer (who cited a dislike of J.F. Lawton's screenplay "tone"), Jennifer Jason Leigh who also found the script objectionable, the lovely Valerina Golino who took herself out of the running considering her "thick Italian accent," as well as Daryl Hannah who was genuinely pleased to pass as she considered the entire thing to be utterly "degrading to women."

On one hand, I do feel she's right-- I've never quite understood the way women have latched onto this film as one of the best modern day romances since well, Breakfast at Tiffany's wherein the luminous Audrey Hepburn played a high class call-girl as well although her profession is far more disguised than Vivian's street corner come hither look as fellow hooker Laura San Giacomo directs her to "work it, work it."

Although it includes a brief glimpse of the tragic side of the profession as one of the girls is found in the dumpster near the beginning-- mostly it models itself as a modern day fairy tale in the vein of Cinderella and Pygmalion or more precisely My Fair Lady (which incidentally also starred Hepburn). Therefore, is it any wonder that the film features a scene wherein Roberts views the classic Hepburn film Charade co-starring Cary Grant (to whom some have compared Richard Gere)?

While I'm less inclined to go for it as a true love story since it does evoke Marshall's perpetual "taming of the female shrew" motif he employs in virtually every film from The Princess Diaries to Raising Helen to Georgia Rule by "punishing" wild women into submission (whether or not it's his intention or he's even conscious of this recurring theme), I still find myself tuning in whenever the film airs simply because the chemistry between the leads works incredibly well and it's great for a laugh.

While the overall tone makes the chicken soup feel of the picture a bit rough to digest, ultimately it's a comfort food movie and one in which-- just like Hepburn roughly forty years earlier in Roman Holiday or 1990's Ghost for Demi Moore-- we can literally see a star being born right before our eyes similar to our first major encounter with Angelina Jolie in Girl Interrupted or Edward Norton in Primal Fear. It's these breakout movies and the performances that elevate the material and make up for any shortcomings as to be perfectly frank, at its core-- Pretty Woman is one blue-blooded romance.

Casting Richard Gere as an icy businessman who has spent years and several thousands of dollars in therapy to get to the point where he can finally admit he's very angry with his father and a man incapable of maintaining a relationship as his work buying and selling companies is his true love-- he nonetheless finds himself becoming intrigued by the street-smart Vivian whom he meets on Hollywood Boulevard while looking for the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

Charming him with facts like the odd bit of trivia that one's foot is the length from one's wrist to their elbow and taking over at the wheel to show him what his friend Jason Alexander's car can really do-- soon he hires her for the evening which eventually leads to a proposition to employ her for a week for a few thousand dollars to be his escort while he wheels and deals in an important business deal.

With Marshall's frequent go-to guy Hector Elizondo playing Vivian's unlikely "fairy godfather" at the Beverly Wilshire-- he gives her a crash course in table manners and how to dress after she witnesses the prejudicial class based wrath of the women who work in the shops at Beverly Hills (summed up best in Romy and Michelle as they joke, "as if" they aren't "bigger whores than she is").

Soon Vivian's laid back attitude and ability to easily enchant Gere's business contacts finds his character Edward becoming equally affected-- jealous when he sees the way another man pays attention to her and becoming more than a little attached by their arrangement. For a film that emphasizes sex as business, Lawton and Marshall try to insert romance successfully by having both Gere and Roberts' character evolve over the course of the film and making the build-up to their first kiss quite filled with sexual tension as one of Vivian's ground-rules is never to kiss a client since it's far too intimate.

Yet the odd arrangement never fully disappears from our minds and while we are often shown movies featuring hookers with the heart of gold or even films where women are bought in one way or another (like in the underrated Mad Dog and Glory which centers on a debt rather than prostitution), it's always puzzled me why this film has been considered as such a straightforward romance with increasingly open arms.

Despite my reservations, it's terribly funny and utterly mesmerizing due to Roberts who by that time had only done effective supporting work in films like Mystic Pizza and Steel Magnolias and while she would go on to become one of Hollywood's highest paid actresses following this work which earned her both a Golden Globe Award and Academy Award nomination and she, Gere, and Marshall did reteam for the horrific "woman tamer" Runaway Bride-- ultimately as we've learned over the course of her career and even far more recently in YouTube footage as she stands up to paparazzi for the safety of her children, there's much more to Julia Roberts than meets the eye.

Yet, just like Meg Ryan, Demi Moore, and Sandra Bullock in the '90s before Cameron Diaz, Kate Hudson, and Reese Witherspoon joined their ranks-- sadly she's been a woman typecast with her most memorable role as a few years back Entertainment Weekly even went as far as to break down the success of her films by showing that when she has her hair curled and smiles (especially on the poster) she wins over the box office and fans much more than any of her attempts at more serious work (despite Erin Brockovich, which admittedly did incorporate some of the same Pretty Woman traits).

And while thankfully Roberts is using her celebrity to help foster new projects and high quality fare for young women and girls including last summer's woefully underrated Warner Brothers film Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, to rom-com enthusiasts, she will forever be known as the woman whom Richard Gere called "Princess Vivian" near the end of this film.

Now it's being released onto Blu-ray from Walt Disney Home Entertainment's Touchstone Pictures with the wonderful offer to receive a ten dollar mail in rebate to fans who already own the film on DVD. And while the clarity is a step up (and I've seen the film in every form except theatrically and most commonly on television where it seems as though it's played on a given channel every single day), honestly, I couldn't tell that much of a difference between the DVD and the Blu-ray.

If your disc is worn out or you still-- like this reviewer-- had the old VHS of Pretty Woman back from the stone age of videotape, it'll be worth the investment to move to Blu-ray but I'd make sure the price was right and you take advantage of that rebate. While the menus are a bit confusing and take a considerable amount of time to load and move back and forth between featurettes--even on a brand new Blu-ray player-- mostly the extras are pretty run-of-the-mill.

They include a blah two and a half minute blooper reel, Natalie Cole's "Wild Women Do" music video, the original theatrical trailer, rare but poorly lit Wrap Party Footage of Gere, Roberts, and Marshall (along with a back-up band) doing their version of an Elvis Costello tune, and a vintage production featurette from 1990 with retro tag-lines like "When Edward and Vivian meet, what happens is beyond their wildest dreams," nonetheless-- along with feature commentary from Marshall-- one of the most interesting features is the interactive L.A. Tour with Marshall as host as he discusses landmarks used in the film.

And while ultimately, as far as '90s love stories go, I'm still more prone to go with the sophisticated works by Nora Ephron including Sleepless in Seattle and the screwball inspired You've Got Mail (which, for my money, is one of the last truly great romantic comedies)-- both of which were inspired by movies of yesteryear much like Pretty Woman-- still, for just light entertainment and laughter, you can't beat the infectious smile of Julia Roberts... without fixating on as Rachael Leigh Cook noted in She's All That, "the whole hooker thing."