Pretty Woman [Blu-Ray]
Director : Garry Marshall
Screenplay : J.F. Lawton
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1990
Stars : Richard Gere (Edward Lewis), Julia Roberts (Vivian Ward), Ralph Bellamy (James Morse), Jason Alexander (Philip Stuckey), Laura San Giacomo (Kit De Luca), Alex Hyde-White (David Morse), Amy Yasbeck (Elizabeth Stuckey), Elinor Donahue (Bridget), Hector Elizondo (Barney Thompson), Judith Baldwin (Susan)
It is a rare thing to get to witness an actress becoming a star in a single movie, but that is exactly what we witness happening with Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Playing Vivian Ward, a down-on-her-luck prostitute who works the corners of Hollywood Boulevard back when it was a seedier stretch of pavement, Roberts doesn’t so much exude warmth and charisma as she embodies it. The movie itself, a modern update of the Cinderella story, is as contrived as you get--isn’t that not-so-secretly what we want?--but at no point is Roberts’ performance, and in some way virtually every role she has played since then has been a response to Vivian, either trying to recapture her seemingly effortless radiance or playing against it.
Pretty Woman is often described as a romantic comedy, perhaps because director Garry Marshall was best known for comedies, but revisiting it after not having seen it for several years, I was surprised to find that it has far fewer comedic moments than I remembered and many more dramatic ones. People tend to think of it as a comedy because of the way in which it fulfills romantic expectations with such charm and good humor, but what they forget is the way in which that charm and good humor is but a thin buffer against the film’s darker elements. The ending is so sugary that it’s easy to forget the way it begins on Hollywood Boulevard with crack dealers, police investigating a dead prostitute found in a dumpster, and Vivian arguing with her roommate Kit (Laura San Giacomo) about using their rent money to buy drugs.
But then Edward Lewis (Richard Gere), a handsome, but emotionally strangled corporate raider from New York who has just broken up with his girlfriend, pulls up in a borrowed Lotus that he can barely drive. We have already met Edward in the film’s very first scene, which takes place at a posh Hollywood Hills party in his honor. The scene begins quite crucially with a magician doing a coin trick saying, “No matter what they say, it’s all about money,” which foreshadows both Edward’s unrewarding existence that revolves around making multimillion dollar deals to buy companies and then sell them piece by piece and the nature of his relationship with Vivian. He picks her up so that she can direct him back to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, where he’s staying in the penthouse despite his fear of heights (“It’s the best,” he says), but he ends up inviting her in for reasons that are unknown to us and probably to him, as well. She goes for the quick seduction (she is on the clock, after all), but he just wants to talk. Physical intimacy ends up taking place anyway, albeit without any kissing on the mouth, which is her one rule. The next morning, Edward makes her an offer: $3,000 to stay the week with him and be at his “beck and call” when he needs social accompaniment while he finalizes a billion-dollar deal to buy up a ship-building company.
These early scenes are particularly interesting in the way they navigate the choppy waters of the film’s subject matter. Edward and Vivian’s first night together is awkward, if not a bit strange, and the way Gere plays the scene suggests a level of discomfort in his own skin that supersedes his character’s emotional distance. Yet, in its own way it works, mainly because Roberts so brilliantly balances the demand that she be both alluring and approachable (notice how convincing she is when eventually seduces Edward, yet also how practical and comical she is in putting a pillow on the floor for her knees), so that when Edward puts forth his “business proposition” the next morning, we sense already that there is more to it. He sees in her all of the life and spontaneity and heart that he is too bottled up to express, and as the week passes she begins to bring it out of him. He, meanwhile, helps to transform her Pygmalion-style from a trashy-looking streetwalker to the “pretty woman” of the title, which allows the film to engage (nay, wallow) in fever-dream fantasy sequences of conspicuous consumption, with Vivian given full access to Rodeo Drive and Edward’s unlimited credit cards to enact her transformation. Cinderella’s ball gown becomes multiple cocktail dresses, day suits, and sundresses, and Edward introduces Vivian to all the benefits of high society, whether it be primo seats at the opera or a day out at a polo match.
Pretty Woman, thus, becomes a romance of transformation, with Edward and Vivian bringing out the best in each other using what they have at their disposal: his money and her charm. It’s easy to read the film as a one-step-back anti-feminist parable in which the woman is tamed by materialism and the high life provided by Prince Charming, but Roberts is so funny and engaging that she bypasses such concerns and makes us realize that Vivian is a creature who transcends simple cultural categories (which is why she was always so ill at ease as a hooker despite being obviously very good at it). She charms everyone around her, usually by accident, and it’s not surprising that the only person she can’t get through to is Philip Stuckey (Jason Alexander), Edward’s malicious lawyer who can’t stand the effect she’s having on his number one client. Pretty Woman is an obviously held-over Reagan-era fantasy about the transformative power of endless wealth, but it also suggests that, quite contrary to the opening line, it’s not always about money. Just most of the time.
|Pretty Woman Blu-Ray|
|Subtitles||English, French, Spanish|
|Distributor||Touchstone Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||February 10, 2009|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Having seen parts of Pretty Woman dozens of times over the past two decades on low-res television, I had forgotten what a bright, colorful film it is. Its presentation in full 1080p on Blu-Ray was a sharp reminder, from the lush greens and yellows around Rodeo Drive to the intense neon lights in the film’s opening sequences. Given the period when it was made (the late 1980s), the image is relatively sharp and clear while maintaining a film-like appearance (some may find it looks too soft and grainy), with good detail and black levels. The Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 surround soundtrack is also very good, allowing the film’s pop music score to fill the channels while keeping dialogue crisp and clean.|
|All of the supplements have been recycled from previous DVD releases. The screen-specific audio commentary by Garry Marshall is nothing if not highly entertaining, primarily because Marshall sounds like Mel Brooks on a bender. His enthusiasm is certainly infectious, and it’s a trip just to listen to him go on about the film and his memories making it. Marshall also narrates “L.A.: The Pretty Woman Tour” (9 min.), which is a series of brief featurettes that explore the locations around Los Angeles where the movie was filmed. “Live From the Wrap Party” (4 min.) is some rather shaky video footage of the wrap party (which apparently took place in a bowling alley!), the highlight of which is Julia Roberts and Richard Gere (who plays piano) crooning “Don’t Wanna Be Misunderstood.” Also included is a 1990 production featurette (4 min.), a blooper reel (2:30), a music video for Natalie Cole’s “Wild Women Do” and the original theatrical trailer.|
Copyright ©2009 James Kendrick
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