I was pretty young the first time I saw Pretty Woman. Only ten years old, but I loooooved the movie. Afterwards, my mother emphatically stated, “Hallie, you know the movie is just a fairy tale, right? A hooker and a rich guy would not live happily ever after.”
I wasn’t so convinced it couldn’t happen. After all, I’d just watched Julia Roberts as the beautiful, endearing hooker Vivian win the heart of Edward, the wealthy, standoffish businessman portrayed by Richard Gere. “Well, maybe they could…” I said. “No,” my mom said. “It’s just a movie. Being a hooker would actually be very sad.”
So basically that killed my dreams of becoming a hooker. Thanks, Mom.
That conversation with my mom underscores just how ridiculous the story premise of Pretty Woman is in the first place: a street prostitute and a wealthy businessman fall in love after a week of sex and frolicking about, only to live (implied) happily ever after!
Pretty Woman was the third highest grossing film in 1990, and Julia Roberts won the Golden Globe for “Best Actress” and also received an Oscar nomination in the same category. That’s notable since rom-coms rarely garner major award nominations for their actors, but Roberts was so effervescent with her wide-eyed enthusiasm that she actually makes you believe that this implausible premise is totally plausible. The on-screen chemistry between Julia Roberts and Richard Gere is golden. They make one of the most memorable on-screen romantic couples in recent decades.
It’s worth noting that the original script for Pretty Woman was not a rom-com. It was a dark drama that gave a realistic portrayal of sex work and the dynamic between a prostitute and her client. It was not a bubbly, fizzy fairytale, and Vivian and Edward did not end up together. Rather, Vivian and her best friend Kit (a fellow prostitute) end up on a bus bound for Disneyland with Kit excited to spend a fun-filled day using the money Vivian earned from her week with Edward. Meanwhile, Vivian stares emptily out the bus window. Kind of bleak… and realistic, right?
Had that been the direction the movie had taken, I’m certain that my high school basketball teammates and I would not have gathered again and again at each other’s houses to eat spaghetti while we watched that movie for the hundredth time. Based on the success of Pretty Woman, I know I’m not the only one who’s glad it was turned from gritty drama into fun rom-com.
But let’s get real. This movie is SO SILLY… and here are five reasons why (spoiler alert):
Silly Reason #1. Street prostitution looks super fun!Vivian’s first scene shows her getting ready for a night out over a sexy soundtrack: the rock song “Real Wild Child.” There are close-ups of her zipping her thigh high boots and applying make-up amidst a shabby but girly apartment. Vivian has a gorgeous face and a gorgeous body. She looks like she gets her eight hours of beauty sleep and eats her vegetables too. Sure, she’s wearing a risqué outfit, but it doesn’t look that much different than what some college girls wear to go out to the clubs. Based on the opening sequence, Vivian may as well be getting ready to go out for a night of dancing.
Except she’s not.
Vivian is a prostitute who works a seedy section of Hollywood Boulevard with her roommate Kit who squanders their rent money on drugs (or as Kit calls it, “a pick me up.”) That seems like a pretty bleak lifestyle to me. Now I want to be clear that I’m not placing judgment on sex workers. I’m also not making the claim that all sex workers hate their work. But it doesn’t take an expert in sexuality and psychology and socioeconomics to know that street prostitution would not be the wild, edgy, alluring profession that this movie suggests in the first twenty minutes. Vivian is not a high-end escort who works for a firm that caters to rich people who have been previously vetted. Nor has she been saving loads of money from her work.
Nope, Vivian is a prostitute who’s financially broke and performs sex acts for basically anyone who pulls up in a car with a little cash to burn. As Vivian and Kit work the boulevard, it feels like two girlfriends hanging out on a fun Friday night. They talk about how they have so much more freedom than the girls who work for pimps. They have a sassy confrontation with another prostitute who’s edging in on their turf. They dismiss a now-deceased prostitute named “Skinny Marie” as just a “crackhead” (hence her demise). They joke around and encourage each other, all the while looking a whole lot cuter than any street prostitute I’ve ever seen. Just another fun-filled night of hooking!
Silly Reason #2. A conservative businessman picks up a prostitute from Hollywood Boulevard.Edward is a buttoned-up, mannered, powerful, egotistical, conservative businessman who’s in Los Angeles for the week to close a business deal. He leaves a Hollywood Hills party after finding out that his girlfriend has broken up with him, because she’s tired of him expecting her to be at his beck and call. That’s actually a pretty good setup for this story. If Edward wants a woman at his beck and call, then ding! ding! ding! A hired sex worker is the perfect solution.
Edward is a calm and calculating character who lacks spontaneity, so it’s important to note that he doesn’t actually pick up a street prostitute for sex. Vivian gets into Edward’s car because he’s lost and needs directions back to Beverly Hills, which she can provide for twenty bucks. It’s an entertaining ride since Vivian knows a lot more about cars than Edward, and she’s a pretty young woman who blurts out whatever she’s thinking. You can actually understand the attraction to a degree.
However, once Edward arrives to the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel (one of the fanciest hotels in Los Angeles), he doesn’t pay Vivian the twenty bucks and say goodbye. No, instead he invites her into his room, which of course causes a scene in the lobby. They have sex that night and it’s apparently so good (as a bonus, she even flosses her teeth), he invites her to stay for the week.
I’m pretty sure the moment where Edward decides he’s all-in for the week is when he sees Vivian asleep (post-coital) and realizes that her sleek, platinum blonde bob is actually a wig. As he peers down at her curly, messy red hair, you can see the affection flooding his eyes. Cue the swoons.
Silly Reason #3. Getting kicked out of a clothing store is the worst thing to ever happen to Vivian.I love the shopping sequence on Rodeo Drive set to the song “Pretty Woman.” It’s an iconic montage, and the cherry on top is when Vivian returns to the store where she was previously kicked out and chides the snobby saleswoman who wouldn’t serve her. Vivian holds up her shopping bags and says, “Big Mistake. Big. Huge.” And we all pump our collective fists in vindication. I love that moment!
But this whole setup is actually one of the silliest moments in the movie. Vivian is a woman who spends a fair amount of time walking around in incredibly revealing clothing that is meant to turn heads (her outfit is essentially a large part of her marketing herself). Therefore, whether it’s fair or not, I’m sure she’s received her fair share of looks and comments before. And since she’s a prostitute, which is illegal, I’m also certain she’s been asked to leave the premises before, if not arrested.
Moreover, Vivian performs sex acts for money. Realistically, she’s been mistreated many times in her life in ways that would be much worse than being told to leave an expensive clothing store. Yet, this is the thing that crushes her, sending her into despair as she cries in the hotel manager’s office about the great injustice of the snobby women on Rodeo Drive. Oh, those bitches!
Silly Reason #4. Edward puts his business deals at risk.Edward is a dude who lives to work. He’s a corporate raider who pursues cut-throat business deals and makes ridiculous amounts of money doing so. He doesn’t take vacations or days off. He’s not known for being attentive to his past wives and girlfriends. So hiring a prostitute actually makes sense for the guy.
Vivian’s carefree, wide-eyed enthusiasm offers up a new point of view for Edward and has some impact on him. Maybe he even develops a little empathy as a result. Overall, as long as you suspend disbelief enough to accept that premise that Edward would hire Vivian in the first place, you’ll find the character development is actually well done in this movie.
However, the movie falls into the realm of complete silliness when Edward brings Vivian to a dinner regarding his important business deal. Vivian. The same Vivian who couldn’t even manage to walk through the lobby of the Regent Beverly Wilshire twenty-four hours earlier without causing an embarrassing scene. She has zero experience with formal social etiquette, and she has demonstrated that she possesses no grasp of basic manners. A few examples: When room service brings breakfast to their room on the first morning, she sits on the table, inadvertently putting her butt on Edward’s plate. She also sits inside the elevator with her legs splayed wide, and for sport, she teases the elderly couple who is clearly shocked to see her in the lobby.
Yet careful and calculated Edward brings this unpolished woman who enjoys ruffling people’s feathers on purpose to a critically important dinner where he’s trying to make a deal.
Of course, because it’s a rom-com, Vivian’s silly mishaps at dinner go over swimmingly, and she wins over the businessman with whom Edward is trying to work with. It’s one of the most memorable scenes in the movie.
Silly Reason #5. Vivian is not interested in a nice apartment or a car, but still gets her “happily ever after” … or does she?Wait, what?
Vivian doesn’t want the apartment or the car that Edward offers. That’s because over the course of their week together, Vivian has fallen in love with Edward. And if you weren’t sure of that fact, you know because she kisses him on the mouth, breaking her #1 rule of prostitution (NO MOUTH KISSING). So when Edward tells Vivian that he’d like to set her up with an apartment and a car, she knows in her heart that it will never be enough. She doesn’t want to be a kept woman on the side. She wants all of Edward –mind, body, heart, and soul.
Except… dang! Maybe I’m a realist, but I think the girl kinda needs a better apartment and a car, right? Am I right? I’m not completely sure this is the time for her pride to come into play. I understand she’s interested in protecting her heart from getting broken, but I think she should be even more concerned with protecting her ass from getting killed in some alley in Hollywood’s red light district.
In a hurt tone of voice, Vivian says to Edward, “It’s a really good offer for a girl like me.”
Um, no offense, Vivian. But given your circumstances at the top of the movie… it is actually a really good offer.
But what do I know? Vivian says “no” and instead decides to leave Los Angeles to pursue her high school diploma, and she still gets her romantic happily ever after! I mean, kind of. Yes, Edward pulls up in a white limo outside her shabby apartment with opera music blaring and flowers in hand and ascends her fire escape (his fear of heights, be damned!). And yes, this represents Vivian’s childhood fantasy that she had earlier shared with Edward of being saved from the tower by the prince on the white horse.
Except Edward doesn’t actually offer anything new in that moment other than the flowers. It’s not like he gets down on his knee and proposes, nor does he ask her to move with him to his home base of New York. No, he just climbs the fire escape and kisses her. So call me crazy, but as far as I can tell, what’s on the line is still the nice apartment and the car.
So I can’t help but circle back to the fact that if Vivian wants to get an education – and I’m all for education! – it might be easiest to do that with a car and an apartment that you aren’t forced to share with an irresponsible roommate who wastes your rent money on drugs… Just sayin.’ Because like that irresponsible (but lovable) roommate tells Vivian in the movie:
This kind of romance only happens to ”Cinda-fucking-rella.”
Looking back, I guess maybe my mom was right. So thanks, Mom, for always keeping it real. And thanks for letting me watch this silly but awesome movie way too many times while trusting that I wouldn’t grow up to pursue a life of prostitution.
Hallie Shepherd is a writer, actress, and film producer. Follow her on Instagram where she celebrates the stories we tell.