Gere plays Edward Lewis, a wealthy businessman who hires Vivian Ward (Roberts), a Hooker with a Heart of Gold, to serve as his escort while he stays in Los Angeles. They end up falling for each other.
This movie was a genuine blockbuster when it came out, and it made then-23-year-old Julia Roberts a star; she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress as well. Richard Gere didn't do too badly out of it either.
Pretty Woman was initially intended to be a dark drama about prostitution in Los Angeles, but was reconceptualized into a romantic comedy. Today it is one of the most financially successful romantic comedies ever, making $178m in the States and another $285m worldwide for a total of $463m note , on a $14m budget with a R-rating and its subject matter to boot. The film was followed by a string of similar romantic comedies, including Runaway Bride, which teamed up Gere and Roberts under the direction of Garry Marshall once again.
This film contains examples of:
- Anywhere but Their Lips: Vivian's one rule is that she never kisses on the mouth because it makes it too personal. Somewhat Truth in Television: prostitutes often don't kiss on the mouth, but more because of the spread of infection (colds, flu, hepatitis, etc.) than the reason given in the film.
- Berserk Button: Though reserved in anger, when Vivian mentions the sales people at a shop did not allow her to shop, he is angered and takes time to help her by ensuring the next place does treat her nicely. It should be said it isn't said if this is because it was Vivian who was insulted or one of his employees was slighted that set him off.
- Catch-22 Dilemma: A social example - Vivian needs stylish clothes in order to look respectable, but the sales staff at the high-end clothing boutiques that sell the kind of clothes she needs won't accept her as a customer because she's not dressed respectably. The hotel manager, and later Edward, have to get involved in order to circumvent this problem.
- Comically Small Demand: Even in 1990 dollars, $3000 seems like a ridiculously small sum for a solid week of prostitution—especially considering Vivian's going rate is normally $100 an hour (168 hours in a week x $100 = $16,800). Moreso considering how filthy rich Edward is and could've asked for more. The film does imply that Vivian's lying about her normal going rate and that inexperience makes her think she's asking for a big sum while Edward regards it as cheap change.
- Compressed Hair: Vivian hides voluminous hair under her blond wig.
- Deadpan Snarker: Edward, much of whose dialogue involves his utterly straight-faced and deadpan replies to the things that other people say.
- Defrosting Ice King: At first, the hotel manager Mr. Thompson only puts up with Vivian's presence because Edward is an important client. As he assists her over the course of the film, he grows fond of her and becomes a Shipper on Deck.
- Does Not Like Shoes: Vivian, who is often barefoot.
- Downer Beginning: The two protagonists get one beginning each, both of them downers. Edward's beginning is merely about his life being shallow and empty, without any room for people really caring about each other. From there the scene flips to Vivian's life, taking the audience along for a plummet into hell. In the first few minutes we get:
- One of her fellow streetwalkers has just been murdered, her corpse getting digged up from a dumpster.
- She has to avoid her landlord and needs a new john really quick, because her roommate has taken all the rent money to buy drugs...
- ...from an especially skeevy guy who is entirely too keen on becoming Vivian's pimp.
- Elite Man Courtesan Romance: Wealthy businessman Edward Lewis hires Vivian to act as an escort for him for a week. Over that time he gradually falls in love with her, and she with him.
- Flowers of Romance: Edward arrives at Vivian's apartment building in a limo and then climbs the fire escape (despite his fear of heights) with a bouquet of roses clutched between his teeth, in order to persuade her to stay with him because she wants to, not because she's paid to do so.
- Formal Full Array of Cutlery: Vivian is prepared for a formal dinner by Barney who explain her the difference between salad fork (the only one she's able to recognize) and meat fork, by counting prongs. The usual application of the trope is then played at the dinner when Mr. Morse confesses he's never understood which fork is for what, demonstrating himself as personable and down-to-earth despite his comfortable situation.
- Lipstick and Load Montage: During the open credits, we watch as Vivian rolls out of bed (at eight at night), wriggles into her skintight skirt, zips up her boots, and applies her makeup, all showing in loving tight shots.
- Love Redeems: Edward's growing love of Vivian helps him turn from being a cold, ruthless business man, to a logical but caring man who seeks to protect the very business he was just looking to buy and destroy.
- Mistaken for Junkie: Edward interrupts Vivian in the bathroom and thinks she's doing drugs. Turns out she's only flossing strawberry seeds from her teeth. (May also be a Development Gag, as the original script wrote Vivian as a drug addict.)
- My Horse Is a Motorbike: Vivian wanted someone to carry her off on a white horse. Cue the white limousine.
- No Fame, No Wealth, No Service: Vivian gets this at a Rodeo Drive store when the sales ladies refuse to assist her because they believe she can't afford to shop there. She gets to tell them off later once she's looking more respectable:Vivian: Do you remember me?
Salesperson: No, I'm sorry.
Vivian: I was in here yesterday. You wouldn't wait on me?
Vivian: You work on commission, right?
Salesperson: Ah, yes.
Vivian: Big mistake. Big. Huge! (She walks out of the shop.)
- Not So Different: Edward starts on his way to a Heel Realization when Vivian points out that his "buy the company, sell off the pieces" business tactic is just like a chop shop with a stolen car.
- Princess Phase: When Vivian was a little girl she would pretend she was a princess... trapped in a tower by a wicked queen. And then suddenly this knight... on a white horse with these colors flying would come charging up and draw his sword. And she would wave. And he would climb up the tower and rescue her.
- Pretty in Mink: The spec script involved Edward renting Vivian a white fur coat to wear during their time together. When she had to give it back, Edward just thought she was upset due to not keeping the coat.
- Running Gag: Edward has a whole bunch of luxuries that he can't take advantage of because of various aspects of his personality (a Lotus Esprit when he can't drive stick, a penthouse suite and a balcony seat at the opera when he's afraid of heights). When asked why he owns it, he replies "It's the best." The gag reaches its zenith at the end, when the acrophobic Edward is climbing up the fire escape of Vivian's apartment building; he calls up, "It had to be the top floor, right?" Vivian answers, "It's the best."
- Scary Black Man: The hotel's personal driver, Daryl. Vivian's pimp comes asking for money and threatens Edward, who is trying to smooth it over. Edward kindly suggests not to harm him and leave, and on cue, Daryl opens his coat to flash a handgun. Vivian's pimp wisely withdraws himself.
- Shout-Out: The scene at the racetrack where Vivian shouts at one of the horses is very similar to one in My Fair Lady, where Eliza Doolittle does the same. Vivian does not say "Come on Dover, move your bloomin' arse", but comes close.
- Slut-Shaming: Less for Viv's profession and more for her fashion sense, but the film makes it clear that many of Edward's high-class friends see her as a person only because they don't know what she does for a living.
- Troubled Sympathetic Bigot: Edward keeps looking down on Vivian, in spite of not wanting to and in spite of his prejudice against her being proven wrong. Of course, he's rather oblivious to the whole thing, innocently arguing that she should accept being treated like a commodity because he's a nice buyer.
- Wrote the Book: Late in the film, Edward says that "I know about wanting more. I invented the concept."
- You Are Better Than You Think You Are: During a heart-to-heart conversation in bed, Edward tells her that she could do much more with her life because of her intelligence and kindness. Vivian responds that when you hear the opposite for so long, you believe it.