Erin and I resolutely did not start this thing where we watch romantic comedies to try to get a better understanding of our genre to skewer or make fun of movies. While things about Bridget Jones’s Diary didn’t work for us, that film was an exercise in glorious perfection compared to Pretty Woman.
To be blunt. We hated Pretty Woman. A lot. (Also we both love silver foxes and still don’t get the Richard Gere thing).
We disliked Pretty Woman not just for reasons of politics, feminism, and realism (I’m a former sex worker, odds were this movie was going to fall down for me fast). We also weren’t sold on the characters; felt that the story started too early; and that the b-plot, while eventually useful, involved a lot of boring stuff.
There were things we liked. The hotel manager character was compelling in his treatment of Vivian. (Why couldn’t he have been our hero?) We thought the inclusion of safer sex was great. And now at least we know where the ubiquitous billionaire trope originated. Hint: Not E. L. James.
So despite our strong negative feelings, here are seven things we learned about this genre from Pretty Woman:
1. Safer sex. It exists. And you can write it. And you can write it in a way than is more interesting than an obligatory sentence about a condom existing. It can be a character moment.
2. Sex can be awkward and silly and sweet, and that can work. See the bathtub scene. Real people are awkward and it makes them easier to connect to. Sometimes, that can even be hot.
3. Let characters’ backstories unfurl. You don’t need to tell us everything at once.
4. Everyone loves a transformation. Too bad Pretty Woman treats the heroine like a feral child.
5. Everyone loves an underdog.
6. Romances are about being chosen. Reading romance is about gaining access not just to those physical and emotional feelings but to the world they take place in.
7. The class and social experience differences that can be difficult in actual relationships are a real turn on to lots of readers in fiction. But it’s a fine line between writing that in a way that’s compelling and lovely and writing that in a way that’s just offensive and peculiar.
We haven’t decided what our next movie will be. But we hope it doesn’t go as badly as this!