All these years later, how does my lady fare?

Extremely well, thank you.

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Originally, dominated by those thigh-length PVC boots and Julia Roberts' legs, the film was accepted as a crowd pleaser and a Hollywood attempt to give the Eliza Doolittle/Professor Higgins dynamic from Pygmalion a Californian face lift. No one rated it as anything more than eye candy and the introduction of a new star. Richard Gere, who is impressive as a ruthless Wall Street asset stripper, never received the recognition he deserved.

Coming back to it again in 2005, two things stand out. Compared to modern American rom-coms, Pretty Woman has integrity, style and restraint. As a result, it feels in a different class. Also, Roberts' performance is consistently good. Even when the ugly ducking becomes a swan, she never lets you forget, with body language especially, where her roots lie.

The film attacks the snobbery of L.A's moneyed classes. Vivian (Roberts) is a blonde-wigged prostitute, who picks up tricks on Hollywood Boulevade.

"What do you do?" Edward (Gere) asks.

"Everything," Vivian says. "But I don't kiss on the mouth."

"Neither do I." Edward says.

He stops her in the street to ask directions and then agrees to pay $300 for an allnighter at the swanky Regent Beverly Wilshire hotel, where hookers in bum-hugging minis are usually banned. Edward is not interested in sex particularly, although doesn't refuse when offered. He needs a companion for a week, as he closes a tricky deal.

Vivian is told to take his credit card and buy nice clothes. The designer shops on Rodeo Drive turn their collective noses up at her, because she looks like a tart and is so... brazen. She asks the advice of the hotel manager (Hector Elizondo), who is only too aware of Edward's valuable custom - money talks throughout this movie, even louder than Vivien - and provides her with a personal taste advisor and shop guide.

This is all about heart. Vivian is from Georgia and has more than enough for two. Edward has trained himself to go without, vulnerability being the enemy of good business. He tells Vivian: "We're the same, you and I. We both screw people for money." He's not laughing. He doesn't have a sense of humour. Everything is perception, how you present yourself, how you pitch a deal. Vivian is useful as decoration, a pretty girl on his arm, but she is also a person with feelings and emotions, those messy things that he prefers to ignore, or lay to one side.

The film is about how Vivian won't let him lay the messy things to one side and how it happens that they (finally) kiss on the lips. The writing is smart and the performances excellent. There is a memorable cameo from Jason Alexander (before Seinfeld), as Edward's high-voltage lawyer.

It's all about money (and heart) and the lead actors, who have chemistry and oodles of charm. Pretty Woman may be outrageously manipulative, but, what the hell, it's done with such style, why not wallow?

Reviewed on: 30 Sep 2005
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Pretty Woman packshot
Pygmalion in California with a moneybags businessman and a tart with a heart. Reissued in cinemas to celebrate it's 20th anniversary.
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Director: Garry Marshall

Writer: J F Lawton

Starring: Richard Gere, Julia Roberts, Ralph Bellamy, Jason Alexander, Laura San Giacomo, Alex Hyde-White, Hector Elizondo

Year: 1990

Runtime: 119 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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