Looking Back at the Golden-Hearted Whore of Pretty Woman 25 Years Later

When Pretty Woman first came out, the concept behind the story was not technically shocking. Films about prostitutes had already been done to death by the French and the Italians–the best one obviously being Federico Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria. So what made Pretty Woman so unique from all the other golden-hearted whore stories before it? Well, in short, its Hollywood sanitization meant that prostitution was finally something America could address without cringing.

A working girl's ensemble
A working girl’s ensemble
Released on March 23, 1990, the evolution of Pretty Woman, which was originally titled $3,000 (the amount paid for services rendered), was extremely telling of what it takes to make a sexual movie for the mainstream. The script, written by J.F. Lawton, imagined Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts) as a coke-addicted prostitute (somewhat cliche, right?) with much shystier tendencies. In its less commercial incarnation, the role was rejected by the likes of Molly Ringwald, Meg Ryan and Daryl Hannah (big mistake, huge).
One of many iconic scenes
One of many iconic scenes
Re-worked into a modern fairytale romance directed by Garry Marshall, however, Pretty Woman was just what audiences wanted to see. The 1980s was somewhat lacking in traditional rom-coms, after all, with cautionary tales like Fatal Attraction and Wall Street reigning supreme at the box office. The successful resuscitation of a genre that was fledgling in the wake of the AIDS scare and a general fearfulness of sex was made ironic by the fact that it was a movie about a lady of the night.
The smile that launched a thousand jizzes
The smile that launched a thousand jizzes
Like New York to Sex and the City, Los Angeles plays its own character in Pretty Woman, acting as a constant influential presence in the exchanges between Edward (Richard Gere) and Vivian. If not for L.A. being a car-centric city, Edward would never have found himself lost on the streets of Hollywood Boulevard where he ultimately asks Vivian for directions. And if not for L.A., one of the most class and money-oriented cities in America, the disparities, and, therefore, attraction between Edward and Vivian would not have been nearly as pronounced.
Meeting because of driving
Meeting because of driving
Moreover, picturing anyone else other than Julia Roberts, then a relative underdog, in the part of Vivian seems impossible. Her snarkily delivered lines, including her stock response to the question, “What’s your name?” being “What do you want it to be?,” could not have been as iconically presented by any other actress of the moment–not even Sharon Stone. And then, of course, there’s the Roxette-heavy soundtrack that plays in the final scene of the film, adding to Marshall’s consummate instincts regarding how to appeal to a female audience–which Pretty Woman still manages to do achieve all these years later.