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‘Pretty Woman’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 23, 1990

You could sit through Touchstone Pictures' "Pretty Woman" and just enjoy it as a slick, instantly and entertainingly digestible Cinderella fable in which sweet little hooker Julia Roberts falls for lonely-at-the-top corporate raider Richard Gere.

But that would be ignoring the movie's capitalistically lurid aspects, its unconsciously corrupt, anything-but-uplifting message about success. It's a movie at odds with its feel-good purposes and it doesn't seem to realize it.

Close to the beginning of the movie, a street person paces the Hollywood streets, braying out "What's your dream?" to everyone in general and us in particular. He's a Chorus, see. After this two-hour fairy tale has played itself out, he returns at the end, blathering the same rap and telling us this is Hollywood, so we should all "Keep on dreaming."

Guess things didn't quite work out for him.

In fact, almost everything we see between this unnamed man's two appearances points to the dire hopelessness of modern existence and the utterly depressing, materialistic nature of life on Rodeo Drive (and, by vague extension, America). This depressing setting would be highly effective, if the movie didn't doublecross itself by following an obviously specious Cinderella scenario, in which, on one fortuitous, Touchstone-kinda day, Gere pulls up to Roberts in a sleek automobile and asks her for directions.

But there she is, getting into the car and starting what will soon be a heady ride to the top, a week-long fling with a rich, handsome, Prince Charming -- or Henry Higgins -- who initially needs someone at his corporate beck and call but who ends up, well, appreciating her most gratifying job skills. But hey, she learns some things too, like how to dress fabulously, how to tell the main fork from the salad one and how to cry at the opera.

On the entertainment level, it should be pointed out that director Garry Marshall -- who added "Happy Days," "Laverne and Shirley" and "Beaches" to our shared sitcom experience -- and screenwriter J. F. Lawton have created a snappy set of amusing encounters between Gere and Roberts, as well as among the other folk who inhabit this world of fashion stores, office suites, hotel lobbies and polo grounds. Gere is appropriately rich, aloof and bored as the wealthy businessman, while Laura San Giacomo (of "sex, lies, and videotape") as Roberts's prostitute-roommate and Hector Elizondo as a friendly hotel manager do a great deal with little roles.

But it's Roberts's memorably comic performance that is the most distinguishing aspect of the movie. As the gawky professional companion, she's ticklishly appealing; on one occasion she accidentally projects an escargot through the air at a strategic dinner meeting and, at that opera visit, innocently inquires, "Where's the band?"

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