Pretty woman was shot in the beginning of the 90s but it is considered one of the landmarks of the genre. The main character, Vivian, is a prostitute but she is not the typical kind that is usually portrayed in films. She does not look very comfortable with her profession and she acts very motherly towards her friend. By some twist of fate, she meets Edward, a businessman in town on business who gets lost and she helps him to reach his hotel. After spending a night together, Edward asks her to stay with him for the duration of his trip to accompany him in his business dinners.
She accepts and the week begins. The two characters bond throughout this week and, of course, in the end they get together. There are a few problems with the stereotypical ideas that are being promoted. Although this is a film with a female central figure, this is not a feminist film. In the first scene, there is a man performing a trick with coins. After the woman does not guess where he put the coin, he says: “I would not trust you with the real gold, that’s why this is worth just a penny” meaning that the coins he used are not real.
I found this patronising towards women and their ability to handle money. This is closely linked to the stereotypical idea of women as consumers only and not very good with budgeting. The idea of women consumers is reinforced throughout the film with Vivian’s trips to Rodeo Drive, the Mecca of shoppers. Commodities are being exchanged for money and Vivian used her body as currency, which is something the sales women in the first clothes store she went would not accept.
Hilary Radner wrote about Vivian’s exchange in her essay “Pretty is as pretty does: Free enterprise and the marriage plot. ” She argues: In an era in which more that fifty percent of all women work outside the home, the 1980s and 1990s have seen the intensification of this new femininity that identifies itself within the public sphere. This new femininity defines itself and its pleasures (its libidinal economy) on a marketplace in which her capital is constituted by her body and her sexual expertise, which she herself exchanges.
She is not exchanged by men, but acts as her own agent…. (1993, p. 59) Which is why she is trying to convince herself that she is truly her own agent when she repeats after her friend their motto: “We say who, we say when, we say how much. ” Their power is imaginary; they cannot exactly make their own fortunes. They know that they are caught in this circle which always brings them back to the same place. And it is in this point that we see how different Vivian is when she asks her friend if she does not want to get out of here and her friend asks her back where else can they go.
But the future is already prearranged for Vivian when she meets Edward who, we already know, is going to get her where she yearns to reach. Going back to the idea of women as consumers, Edward says to Vivian in the middle of the film that he was quite surprised with her buying only one dress and he encourages her to do more shopping. He seems to validate her existence with how much shopping she can do and, therefore, he wants to get her into the shops again to give her more importance.
He takes her into a shop and, when he is about to go, hands over his credit card to her and tells the shop manager: “She’s got my card”. To that the manager replies: “And we will help her use it”. Her whole value as a woman is attached to this little bit of plastic because we already know that this man would not give her a second look if Edward had not given her his card. In the book mentioned above, Radner talks about the notion of female as a consumer. She says that “a woman’s value is measured by her sexual expertise and her appearance as the feminine-consumer-self” (1993, 61) .