Julia Roberts was relatively unknown when she won the lead for Pretty Woman with Richard Gere. She won it pretty much by default: No other leading ladies were willing to take it on. The list of stars who turned Pretty Woman down includes Meg Ryan, Michelle Pfeiffer, Darryl Hannah, Brooke Shields and Molly Ringwald. I suppose in retrospect there is some regret since Pretty Woman has such popular grass roots support.
Critics have been as unwelcoming to Pretty Woman as the potential leading ladies, but the first weekend in theaters, Pretty Woman was in the number one slot. The second weekend its gross was $12,471,670. Part of the reason for this blow-out success is the charm of Julia Roberts.
Julia Roberts was charming in Mystic Pizza, a mediocre film at best with unlikely casting. Regardless of star ranking order, Roberts was the run-away-star of the film. Her charm and appeal were unquenchable, even when she was given less than interesting dialog to choke through. This won her a role in Steel Magnolias, and then the line of actresses exiting left the door to Pretty Woman open for Roberts to walk through.
Pretty Woman is not a nice film; itís a look at the life of street prostitutes and filthy rich hard-hearted Johns in Los Angeles, and its original dark side still muddies it up even though the scenes of darkened under-belly life pertaining to Vivian (Julia Roberts) were cut. The reason for the overwhelming difference between how female stars reacted to Pretty Woman as they rejected the role and how the populace reacts is that these dark horrors were cut and that Julia Roberts is just too captivating not to love.
Vivian is a corner hooker who couldnít pay the rent and so turned to the street instead of turning home (not wise). She meets a corporate raider (Richard Gere)--who buys big, floundering companies and breaks them into smaller companies and sells them--who has lost his way and stops to ask directions. Jumping uninvited into his car, Vivian offers to be his personal direction resource (Do I detect metaphor?). After that, Gereís character, Edward Lewis, decides he needs a business opportunity meeting date, and Vivian reenters the scene and is invited to stay for a week.
The drama starts when Vivian is snubbed at posh stores where clerks refuse to serve her. The hotel manager gives her an insulting earful then responds to her tears by helping her gain a little grace of manner. These are the mildest of the insults Vivian faces. Lewisís business partner and friend offers rather forcefully to help advance Vivianís chosen career forgetting that coercion is still coercion even when youíre being coerced to practice your line of work. Lewis sets him straight with a couple of right or left hooks and...heís out!
Despite the comedic romance of the movie and the unmistakable charisma of Julia Roberts, which is amplified when coupled on screen with Richard Gere, this is still a dark film about the dark lives of street hookers and all the pleasantry and epiphany seems only to accentuate the dark sides. Julia Robertsí personal charm lifts this movie out and away from what it in fact is, which is why box office numbers are soaring; but it is still what it is, although most movie-goers seem blinded to anything but the warmth of Julia Robertsí personality.
I donít recommend this movie to anyone with moral scruples, although, down the road, it may due for a rental just to see what the charmer did onscreen in company with Richard Gere to win the hearts of the world.
Pretty Woman (1990)
Garry Marshal - Director
J.F. Lawton - Writer
Julia Roberts - Vivian Ward
Richard Gere - Edward Lewis