Published on July 5, 2016
Pretty Woman is a 1990 American romantic comedy film directed by Garry Marshall from a screenplay written by J. F. Lawton. The film stars Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, and features Hector Elizondo, Ralph Bellamy (in his final performance), Laura San Giacomo and Jason Alexander in supporting roles. Its story centers on down-on-her-luck Hollywood hooker Vivian Ward, who is hired by Edward Lewis, a wealthy businessman, to be his escort for several business and social functions, and their developing relationship over the course of her week-long stay with him.
Originally intended to be a dark cautionary tale about class and sex work in Los Angeles, the film was reconceived as a romantic comedy with a large budget. It was widely successful at the box office and became one of the highest-grossing films of 1990. The film is one of the most popular films of all time; it saw the highest number of ticket sales in the US ever for a romantic comedy, with Box Office Mojo listing it as the #1 romantic comedy by the highest estimated domestic tickets sold at 42,176,400, slightly ahead of My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) at 41,419,500 tickets.
The film received mixed reviews, with Roberts’s performance being praised, for which she received a Golden Globe Award, and a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress. In addition, screenwriter J. F. Lawton was nominated for a Writers Guild Award and a BAFTA Award. It was followed by a string of similar romantic comedies, including Runaway Bride (1999), which reunited Gere and Roberts, again under the direction of Marshall.
Edward Lewis, a successful corporate raider in Los Angeles on business, accidentally ends up in the city’s red-light district, where he encounters a street hooker named Vivian Ward. Through a chance encounter, looking for direction, he hires her as an escort for social events for his week in L.A. Those she encounters during her time as his escort, initially judge her for her provocative look and unsophisticated behavior, including hotel manager Barney Thompson who warms to her and helps her improve her etiquette to be a more appropriate dinner partner. Edward is visibly moved by her transformation from hooker to sophisticated lady and begins seeing Vivian in a different light. He begins to open to her, revealing his personal and business lives.
Edward takes Vivian to a polo match he sponsors in hopes of networking for his business deal. His attorney Phillip begins to suspect Vivian to be a corporate spy. Edward reassures him by telling him how they met and Phillip approaches Vivian, suggesting they do business once her work with Edward is finished. Insulted by Phillip and furious that Edward has revealed the secret of who she really is, Vivian wants to end her arrangement with Edward. But he confesses to feeling jealous of a business associate who has paid Vivian some personal attention during the week. Vivian’s straightforward personality is rubbing off on Edward and he finds himself acting contrary to his normal personal and business personalities. Clearly growing closer Edward takes Vivian to the opera and finds himself wanting to spend more time with her.
Growing fond of Edward, Vivian breaks her “no kissing on the mouth” rule and finds she is falling in love. He offers to put her up in an apartment so she can be off the streets but she rejects it, insulted and says this is not the “fairy tale” she dreamed of where a knight on a white horse rescues her.
In meeting with business associates whose company he is in the process of “raiding”, Edward changes his mind at the last minute. His time with Vivian has shown him a different way of looking at life and he suggests working together to help save the associate’s company rather than tearing it apart and selling it off for a profit. They will build big ships together. That was Edward’s dream: to build things, instead of tearing them down. Furious over the loss of so much money, Phillip goes to the hotel to confront Edward, but finds only Vivian. He blames her for changing Edward and attempts to force himself on her. She is fighting him off as Edward arrives just in time to stop Phillip, hitting him while chastising him for his greed. He fires Phillip and then throws him out.
With his business in L.A. complete and his return to N.Y. imminent, Edward tries to persuade Vivian to stay one more night with him because she wants to, not because he’s paying her but she refuses. On his way to the airport, Edward re-thinks his life and his unexpected feelings for Vivian. He has the hotel chauffeur detour to Vivian’s apartment building where he leaps from the white limo and “rescues her”; a visual urban metaphor for the knight on a white horse rescuing the princess, fulfilling Vivian’s childhood fantasy, and the fantasies of so many young women.
Richard Gere as Edward Lewis, a rich, corporate raider and womanizer from New York who is alone on business for a week in Los Angeles. At the start of the film, he borrows a Lotus Esprit from his lawyer (Phillip) and, not being able to drive it well, winds up lost in the red-light district. While asking for directions back to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel he meets and later falls in love with a hooker named Vivian.
Julia Roberts as Vivian Ward, a beautiful hooker with a heart of gold on Hollywood Boulevard, who is independent and assertive—refusing to have a pimp and fiercely reserving the right to choose her customers and what she would do and not do when with them. She runs into Edward, a wealthy businessman, when he asks her for directions to Beverly Hills. Edward hires Vivian for the night and offers her $3,000 to spend the week as his escort to business social engagements. She later falls in love with Edward.
Ralph Bellamy as James Morse, a businessman and owner of an underperforming company that Edward is interested in buying and breaking up. Edward later has a change of heart and offers to partner with him for a Navy shipbuilding contract that would effectively make his company strong again. This was Bellamy’s final acting performance in a career that lasted nearly six decades.
Jason Alexander as Phillip Stuckey, Edward’s insensitive lawyer. He pesters Edward after he sees Vivian and David Morse getting along. After learning that Vivian is a sex worker, he propositions her (to her dismay). After a lucrative deal falls through because of Edward’s feelings for her, he angrily tries to force himself on her but is stopped by Edward. The epitome of corporate greed, he represents what Edward might have become had he not met her and changed his outlook on life.
John David Carson as Mark Roth, a businessman in Edward’s office.
Laura San Giacomo as Kit De Luca, Vivian’s wisecracking friend and roommate, who spent their rent money on drugs. After Vivian gives her rent money and a little more, while telling her that she has “potential”, an inspired Kit begins to plan for a life off the streets.
Alex Hyde-White as David Morse, James Morse’s grandson, who is smart and is being groomed to take over the Morse Company when his grandfather either dies or retires. He plays polo and might have feelings toward Vivian as he shows her his horse during the game that she and Edward attend.
Amy Yasbeck as Elizabeth Stuckey, Phillip’s wife, who likes to be the center of attention in everything. She is quite sarcastic to Vivian when they first meet at the polo game, although she does tell Edward that Vivian is sweet.
Elinor Donahue as Bridget, a friend of Barney Thompson who works in a women’s clothing store and is asked by him to help Vivian purchase a dress after she has an encounter with two snobby women in another dress store.
Héctor Elizondo as Barney Thompson, the dignified but golden-hearted manager of the hotel. At first, he does not hide his disdain for Vivian, but he eventually befriends her, helps her buy a cocktail dress, and gives her lessons in table manners.
Judith Baldwin as Susan, one of Edward’s ex-girlfriends, with whom Edward reunites at the beginning of the film. She has married and reveals to him that his secretary was one of her bridesmaids, inferring that Susan got to know the secretary more than she did Edward, from having to go through the secretary in her many attempts (usually unsuccessful) to reach him.
Laurelle Brooks Mehus as the night desk clerk. Among other scenes, she appeared in the opening hotel scene with Vivian and Edward.
James Patrick Stuart as the day bellhop who carries Vivian’s new clothes for her after her shopping spree.
Dey Young as a snobby saleswoman in a dress store.
Larry Miller as Mr. Hollister, the salesman in the clothing store where Vivian buys her cocktail dress and many other outfits using Edward’s credit card.
Patrick Ridgewood as Dennis the elevator operator.