Chick Flix Club: Pretty Woman


[Chick Flix Club examines films within the female driven comedy/drama genres (otherwise colloquially referred to as “chick flicks”) in order to understand why we may or may not adore these flicks despite not being in the intended demographic] 

This month’s edition of the Chick Flix Club is very special to me: It’s the one year anniversary! When I started writing this feature exactly one year ago, I had no idea that I’d soon be writing the feature for the front page! Man, life is so sweet sometimes. In honor of this new threshold, from here on out, Chick Flix Club is taking on the big names! No more slightly known films, or sort of known films, we’re going for the big kahoozits!

And to start things off, January’s edition is arguably one of the biggest names in “chick flicks.” It’s also oddly one of the first ones people think of when then they of the genre: Pretty Woman. It’s very special to me since it’s the film that inspired me to the write the feature in the first place. When I watched Pretty Woman for the first time a year ago, I started to notice patterns and parallels that seemed to mirror countless other films (especially Runaway Bride. For years I thought it was the same movie). So then I started studying and watching countless films and wrote my thoughts down. They might have been rough and concise until I figured out how to process my film thoughts better, but I’m glad I’ve made it to this point. 

So enough about me, let’s get down to it! What about Pretty Woman makes it the quintessential “chick flick”? Does Pretty Woman really walk down the street? Please read on to find out! Oh and if you haven’t seen Pretty Woman, I should warn you that there are spoilers ahoy hoy. 

Edward (Richard Gere) is a businessman who doesn’t deal with people well. He then meets Vivian (Julia Roberts), who’s uh…a night seller. To avoid showing up to an important business meeting and fancy parties alone (because his class dictates it as such) he hires Vivian to “escort” him to parties and the like. And then they fall in love and change each other’s lives. 

You would figure a film about the differences between the higher and lower classes (and two people that fall in love beyond the boundaries) would portray the two central characters unequally. As in, one class or character would be seen or implied as better than the other one. And you’d be right. The film notably starts with the characters on equal footing with each having to deal with their own sorts of problems…at least until they meet each other. And given their relationship to one another (one is being paid by the other) the control between the characters would naturally shift. But it’s a little unfortunate when the potential for equality is there. For example, although Vivian is a working girl, she holds herself to a notably high standard and refuses to back down from her choices. It’s only when Edward is introduced into her life, she starts to “act” like a working girl rather than a girl down on her luck. 

That’s where the main conflict of the film lies. Who exactly is control of who? Once we figure out the answer to that question, we can figure out and further examine the awkward tone of the film. 

What do I mean by awkward tone? Where exactly does the humor stem from? If you study the actions of the two central characters, Vivian and Edward, it’s truly hard to figure out which of the two the film is about (because of the constant control fluctuation), and that drives the humor of the story. Initially it seems like Edward’s film, since 1. Vivian isn’t introduced until after Edward establishing their dynamic and 2. He also seems like the one who can dictate the direction of the story. For example, he chooses to defend Vivian when she can’t buy clothes on Rodeo Drive by spending an “offensive” amount of money. With that, Edward solves the initial class problems Vivian has in the film. And since Edward can do what he wants, it changes the perspective of the film…or at the very least makes it questionable. 

Perspective is a HUGE deal in Pretty Woman as it determines whether or not Vivian can be deemed a respectable female lead, or if she can be classified as “the” lead character at all. If we look at the film through Edward’s perspective we get a story where: man meets working girl, man has sex with working girl, man pays working girl to accompany him to parties, man classes up working girl, man falls in love with girl’s “quirks,” man falls in love with working girl. It’s a very male-centric “hooker to housewife” archetype that’s suitably offensive. It also negates any of Vivian’s decisions. Her personality is deemed “goofy.” And the humor of the film than derives itself from ridiculing Vivian. For example, every time she laughs are we laughing with her? Or are we smiling at her perceived goofy demeanor? The most notable scene of the film is when Edward shows Vivian a diamond necklace and then closes it on her hand. Through his perspective, it’s a small joke and the film finds the humor in Vivian’s “goofy” reaction. But in retrospect, it was a slightly cruel prank. 

BUT if you shift everything to Vivian’s perspective, the film becomes a little more empowering. If only a little. If Vivian is in control, the film also follows more of the standard “chick flick” genre rules (man candy, man changes woman’s life, woman is an outsider). Her story is also a lot more conventional: woman struggles, woman meets man and has sex with him (whether or not it was her choice was unclear, but also deserves some study), man proposes idea, woman is insulted for being lower class, man saves her with money, women falls in love with man, woman decides to break up with the distant man, man pleads for her love. See? Standard romantic comedy stuff. 

Despite of all the control fluctuations within the film, the ending cements what kind of film it intends to be. It does want to have a “man changes a woman’s life” kind of story.

The ending’s visuals cements both the relationship between the two main characters and the perspective from which we are supposed to view the film. After heavy handedly pondering over their relationship for thirty seconds to Roxette’s “It Must Have Been Love,” Edward decides he wants to be with Vivian. So he climbs the fire escape to the top floor of her building, confirming their power dynamic. In this scene, Vivian is visually higher above Edward and figuratively above him in their relationship (which is further reflected in her “she rescues him right back” line). And if she was in control, then the film’s messages of “buying love” aren’t as negative. Unfortunately, this perspective also means that Vivian isn’t a strong female character despite her control. 

With her in control, the themes of “class struggle” are far more prominent than originally intended. Pretty Woman now argues that you can fall in love with anyone…and I mean anyone…as long as you conform them to your class status. 

I know this may all sound rougher and more brief than usual, but Pretty Woman is a complicated film. It’s probably more suited to a Deep Analysis feature more so than a brief club post. Nevertheless, I hope you’ve enjoyed this month’s edition of the club as much as I did writing it. I’m looking forward to another year, and I hope you all will stick with me!

And to prove how serious I am about tackling big films, next month’s club (the Valentine’s Day edition) takes on a more widely accepted romantic film because of its two damn attractive main characters…

The CFC will return in February with…The Notebook.

OH and for old time’s sake, Questions, suggestions, or comments? Drop me a line below! 

November: Legally Blonde

October: Scream