As 'Pretty Woman' turns 25 and looks to Broadway, here's what a Times critic said in 1990

Richard Gere, left, and Julia Roberts appear together in the Touchstone Pictures film "Pretty Woman." (AP Photo)
Richard Gere, left, and Julia Roberts appear together in the Touchstone Pictures film "Pretty Woman." (AP Photo)
Published March 26, 2015

Twenty-five years ago this week, a Pretty Woman walked off of the street, into our lives and off with our hearts (and that of a millionaire).

Yes, we're talking about Julia Roberts as a streetwalker in that iconic rom-com that released in March 1990. Nowadays, Pretty Woman is even turning into a Broadway musical, if People is to be believed.

"I had so much fun doing Pretty Woman the first time around that I'm trying it again as a Broadway musical," director Garry Marshall, 80, told the tabloid. "We have secured the rights to do a stage adaptation."

Fun indeed. So what was the buzz about Pretty Woman 25 years ago? Here's a review by then-St. Petersburg Times critic Hal Lipper that ran March 23, 1990, under the headline "A cliche with a heart of gold: Witty script whisks 'Pretty Woman' sweetly along."

Pretty Woman is packed with guilty pleasures. It's a fresh, beguiling bottom-drawer Pygmalian that entertains despite its worn premise:

A sophisticated corporate raider, bored with vacuous jet setters, accidentally meets and falls in love with an ill-mannered high school dropout who plies the sidewalks of Hollywood Boulevard. He nurtures her refinement; she teaches him to look beyond the bottom line.

The hooker with the heart of gold is Vivian, engagingly played by Julia Roberts. The millionaire with the gold card is Edward, portrayed with cool comic reserve by Richard Gere.

Garry Marshall directs J.F. Lawton's script, which recalls the airy banter of vintage screwball comedies. This is Marshall's finest movie since The Flamingo Kid and his overrated Nothing in Common. It has the lightness of Marshall's early television series — Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Mork and Mindy— good TV, within the realm of situation comedy.

Roberts carries this romantic comedy with disarming, unpredictable charm. Gere proves an amiable, low-key foil.

But the true star of Pretty Woman is its screenplay, which reportedly went through massive rewrites on the set. The banter is consistently witty even if the story suffers from an overworked Cinderella complex.

Here are some examples of its dialogue, which a few generations ago would have been tailored for Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn or William Powell and Myrna Loy:

Gere (shortly after meeting Roberts): "What makes you think I'm a lawyer?"

Roberts: "You've got that sharp, useless look on your face."

Gere invites her to spend the night. The next morning, he asks her to be his personal escort for six additional days. They argue over her retainer, eventually settling on $3,000.

Roberts: "I'd have gone for $2,000."

Gere: "I'd have paid $4,000."

Gere's character, Edward, is in the midst of a billion-dollar hostile takeover. He's about to crush and dismantle a family-owned shipbuilding company.

Edward wants Vivian to charm his adversaries during the two sides' initial meeting at an exclusive Los Angeles restaurant. This, of course, is ludicrous since Vivian doesn't know a wine glass from a water goblet and the shipbuilders probably don't have much interest in the latest news from Hollywood and Vine.

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At the dinner, Vivian is daunted by the full service of silver and the escargot Edward has ordered for an appetizer.

Vivian (Roberts): "Where's the salad?"

Edward (Gere): "That comes at the end of the meal."

Vivian (Roberts): "But that's the fork I know (how to use)."

While the dialogue carries the comedy, the romance must be sustained by the situations. A love story isn't much of a love story unless there are obstacles to hurtle. So, Vivian and Edward's age, class and educational backgrounds are contrasted through a series of uncomfortable social situations.

At a polo match, Edward callously reveals Vivian's profession to his attorney. This leads to the Major Altercation, a requisite plot turn, since couples can't make up unless they break up.

Pretty Woman is pretty predictable. Edward will instill self-confidence in Vivian. She will make him consider the ethical implications of corporate raiding. Eventually, though, they will confront the prince and pauper realities that set them apart.

It would be a challenge to find material more cliched than this, yet Roberts is so winning the movie has a distinctive airiness.

She is backed by an excellent supporting cast, notably Laura Giacomo as her hooker roommate and Hector Elizondo as the hotel manager who gives her a lifetime's worth of etiquette lessons during a single afternoon.

Pretty Woman is pure confection. It's light on substance, but sweet to the palate. Guilty pleasures like this are only too rare."