In many respects, the archetype for the shifty, con artist prostitute was perfected (at least in the mainstream) by Julia Roberts’ rendering of Vivian Ward. A pink wig-toting, flanks exposed broad with a disdain for the very notion of romance, Vivian lit up the path for Jane Jones (Natalie Portman) a.k.a. Alice Ayres to walk in her salty (gruff exterior-wise), ragamuffin footsteps.
Apart from the most obvious comparison, that iconic pink wig (Portman’s tends to be particularly more iconic in the eyes of men fond of the “stripping” scene), the two women share many parallels. For one, a familial background that is, at best, spotty. And what always tends to happen to girls with not just parental issues but chiefly daddy issues? Well, they become sexual wildcards. In each female’s case, their upbringing prompts them to move as far away as possible: for Vivian, Los Angeles is the place and for Jane, it’s London. In these respective cities, Vivian and Jane have at their disposal a veritable smorgasbord of men to toy with, use as they will for their own financial advancement.
And yes, they end up overly succumbing to the charms of men they know better than to open their hearts to. For Vivian, Edward Lewis (Richard Gere), a corporate raider with a perpetual smirk, is the unlikely (and unsmooth) mark who ends up reeling her in for more than just a night after picking her up on Hollywood Boulevard to get hands-on directions back to his hotel (oh the simpler, yet more challenging days of non-omnipresent GPS).
Edward may be rich, but his finesse is sorely lacking. Conversely, Jane’s object of affection, Dan Woolf (Jude Law), is the clichely broke (or at least struggling) writer–one has to be with a last name like his. Unlike Edward, Dan is brimming with charisma, though it is somewhat marred by a weak chin, indicating, too, a weak character. However, after rescuing Jane (too little, too late) by accompanying her to the hospital when she’s hit by a car, he’s immediately hooked on her aloof demeanor, as she bandies phrases like, “Hello, stranger.” From this very moment, it is as though the two are bound to one another, commencing a relationship that goes on carefreely enough for the first year before Dan develops a wandering eye for Anna (played by the Vivian Ward herself, Roberts). With the maestra of sultry, cunning allure sharing the same frame as Jane, the resemblance of their characters becomes subtly more pronounced.
Vivian, who fine-tuned the slow reveal of vulnerability in Pretty Woman with phrases like, “People put you down enough, you start to believe it,” highlights the cautious seduction of Portman’s character as well. Unfortunately, once the floodgates of Jane’s emotions open, she doesn’t come across nearly as distinguée as Vivian. For instance, declarations to Dan that include, “No one will ever love you as much as I do,” aren’t exactly half as filled with removed coolness as, “I can do anything I want to baby, I ain’t lost”–which is what Vivian says to Edward when he complains about her charging him for directions.
Although Vivian is, in many respects, the emotionally stronger of the two body-selling heroines, Jane is ultimately the one with the courage to acknowledge that the man who has curried her affections is a hollow shell that has only and will only disappoint her. Vivian, contrastly, lives in the alternate Hollywoodized version of a sex worker/client romance, famously stating, “I want the fairy tale.” But Jane knows better than to believe in such a delusion, asserting to Anna’s boyfriend, Larry (Clive Owen), “Everyone loves a big, fat lie.” Which is precisely why Jane never admits her true name–a core aspect of her identity–to Dan for the duration of their relationship, knowing full well in the back of her mind that she’ll eventually have to reinvent herself again for a new love interest, someone else who might be able to give her what she needs: undiluted, undistracted affection. Vivian, on the other hand, is willing to settle, addressing the fact that Edward will probably disillusion her somewhere down the line if they stay together and choosing to be with him anyway.
And so, yes, Vivian is the prototype for Jane Jones’ more hardened, cynical persona–and all without being a full-fledged prostitute (though we all know the rumors about strippers going to the next level tend to have some veracity). Ironically, Anna says of Jane, “She has the moronic beauty of youth, but she’s sly.” But it seems this is more so the case with Vivian, who also showcases other elements of the moronic from the instant she falls for Edward. At least Jane has the the presence of mind to know when to finally take her chips off the table. Good dick or not.