I’ve always known and loved Julia Roberts, and I’ve certainly always respected her. An award-winning actress with the filmography to prove it, universally adored and undeniably gorgeous—I didn’t need to have actually seen Julia’s back catalogue to know she is the movie star. But as a self-professed rom-com lover, it was embarrassing when people realized I’d never seen arguably her biggest movie. “You’ve never watched Pretty Woman?” friends, colleagues, and flatmates gasped on a regular basis. When the 1990 classic was added to Netflix in the UK—and as Julia stars on the February 2024 cover of British Vogue*—*I could put it off no longer. I documented every thought that struck me in its two-hour runtime.
I want to be Julia Roberts when I grow up
I don’t think anyone has ever looked as good as Julia Roberts in this film. I couldn’t pay attention to anything other than her hair. Once Vivian ditched the Party City wig? She devoured us all.
Is the rom-com extinct?
The chemistry between Roberts and Gere is off the charts. In fact, it was somewhat suffocating. They don’t cast them like this anymore…
To enjoy this movie, you have to lock the feminism in a box
Allow me to add a caveat by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed this film and understand why it is beloved by so many. But it’s hard to watch it and ignore the social class, age, and gender-related undercurrents that rumble away underneath the plot. It’s inherently problematic: uber-rich older guy, who acquires and destroys companies for a living, hires a young sex worker to be his companion during a stint in LA. She’s there to be at his beck and call, to be his puppet, to make him look good. The majority of the film is centered around him. We learn a whole lot about Edward’s life and backstory (his daddy issues, his estranged wife in New York, his career, his drive), yet Vivian’s life beyond sex work remains largely a mystery.
Of course, we can’t sit down to watch a ’90s film about a sex worker and rich man 20 years her senior expecting it to be progressive. The attitudes towards her industry are underscored further by prejudiced hotel and retail staff (even though some are ultimately captivated by Vivian’s charm), and misogynistic stereotypes (she wants “the fairytale”—to be saved by a knight in shining armor). Not to mention the fact that if Julia Roberts’s character didn’t look like Julia Roberts, her love story with this millionaire customer would seem even less plausible. By Pretty Woman’s logic, sex workers deserve to be treated like real people—so long as they are sufficiently pretty and charismatic.
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