Something happens when you grow up with a film. It very nearly becomes a litmus test against which you understand your changing awareness and sensibilities because it stays the same while you’re always changing. You stop identifying with just the children. You finally catch the jokes that flew over your head, and then eventually you no longer find those jokes funny. What was meaningful becomes trite. And the characters you once respected? You now question their motives. You’ve met so many people like the main character that you can see them as an archetype and not an individual. You grow out of the music from the soundtrack. Or you haven’t and it becomes your secret. All that being said… you still go back to that film for a reason. It’s your mirror throughout your personal history. It’s the place you project yourself. It’s the trinket you’ve taken from popular culture and hidden in your sock drawer. Only you know why.
Pretty Woman is my movie. I’ve watched it more times than I can count, but the number is comfortably over fifty. And it’s not because the movie is inherently great. Far from it! But I grew up with it, grew out of it, and still return to it. I found it in 1993–three years after it came out. Because of strict Baptist sensibilities, my family forbid me to see movies in theatres, so we rented a couple of VHS tapes a week from Blockbuster, screened by parents and seldom anything rated R. So somehow a movie about an adorable whore found its way in front of my little eighth grade face. It was nothing less than a miracle. At school all day, I was the only lanky, pubescent girl wearing baggy, knee length cotton shorts in a sea of cutoffs and flannels. In the evenings, I lived through Julia Robert’s character, Vivian, who strutted bare-thighed and proud in tall black boots.
Fast forward a couple of years, and I am sixteen. I’m the only one of my friends that doesn’t drive. I carry an unused learner’s permit because my mom hits me too much when we take the car out. My parents have reluctantly bought me the movie for a birthday. I want to be something like Vivian. I want to have some sort of esoteric knowledge that will let me in with the boys, the way she knows about cars. I sneak to Victoria’s Secret in the mall with my older sister and buy sexy panties and hide them in other bags so they’re not detected when we meet our parents back at the food court. I wear lace underwear to church and imagine myself draped over a piano during the sermon, toes on the keys, the way she robotically and professionally goes limp in Richard Gere’s arms. Because I’m so inhibited at home, I grow into my sexuality with a character from a movie as my mentor and when I imagine the kind of woman I want to be, I want to be nothing like my mother who hates her own body and never smiles. I’d rather be the girl singing Prince in the bathtub.
It’s funny how seriously I took this movie, but I needed to. I experienced it the way I vicariously experienced everything my older sister was allowed to do. She walked into every bar I ever wanted to peek into, and talked to every seedy character imaginable while still maintaining her sweetness. She fucked for money and remained pure and perfectly likeable. I’m old enough now to realize that there’s no real-life Vivian. I wrote a paper on prostitutes in tenth grade, denouncing the movie as fluff, yet I remained bound to it.
College found me not having much time for movies. I’d turn on the movie while cleaning my dorm room or while napping and watch the character from Milledgeville, Georgia do whatever it took to find her own way, even if it hurt. I needed it less because I didn’t need to dream as much. I was finding my own life. Now I only watch it maybe once a year. I’m past it. I don’t need it anymore. But it’s like picking up an old diary–sometimes you do it just to amuse yourself.
Pretty Woman is very much my girlhood. I now enjoy it because it reminds me of where I came from and reassures me that I’ve found my own way. It’s all of my wishes. It’s all spite for how I grew up. It’s the peephole to the real world that I no longer need because I now live on the other side of the door. I’ve got my own pair of thigh high black boots from a stint in the adult business as well as a blonde wig, and the actual objects are still less meaningful than the ones in the movie. They’re just accessories. I suppose you make a film your own over time. Whatever the director’s intentions are doesn’t matter. With each viewing, you inject it with enough nostalgia the way you’d pump salt solution into a turkey to make it better, and it’s with you forever.