Roxane Gay presents Pretty Woman at TIFF followed by a conversation about the romantic comedy genre and how the message of the film holds up 28 years later.
Pretty Woman, starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, follows Edward, a billionaire hotshot who needs an escort for some deal-making social events, and hires Vivian, a beautiful prostitute he meets on Hollywood Blvd, only to fall in love.
Since it’s release in 1990, the film continues to find a place in the hearts of many, including Roxane Gay, who remains consistent in her love for this legendary rom-com. When asked about how that love has evolved over time, Gay says, “what I appreciated when the movie first came out was the fairy tale. I love fairy tales. What I appreciate more is the craft now. It’s actually a really well made movie despite the problematic nature of how it deals with sex work and how it deals with gender and the fact that black people are only in service roles. Other than all of that, it’s a really tight screenplay.”
In the current cultural climate, representation of both race and gender, are both very important issues. And though it’s been said before, it is important to continue talking about these issues. Gay has been covering the topics for years in her literary works such as Bad Feminist (2014), Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body (2017) and Difficult Women (2017). She has become the voice of feminists everywhere, an inspiration and a leader, helping to move the conversation forward.
So how does a feminist icon rationalize her love for romantic comedies, which are typically portrayed as girlie fluff? The answer is two-fold. For one, we need to stop being ashamed of our love for the romantic-comedy genre. The problem in Gay’s opinion, is that things that women like are often treated as frivolous. “Ultimately it comes down to misogyny as usual. Because women are the primary consumers of romantic comedies and so anything that women are interested in is terrible. Romantic comedies rely on normal life and love and living and of course they have these idealized versions of life and love, but they’re still interesting.”
Secondly, Gay explains that she is, “able to love things despite their bad issues and in the spectrum of problematic pop culture, this is actually not that bad.” Immediately after saying this Gay chuckles, endearing the entire audience to her even more, as she realizes she quoted the title of a collection of essays she edited, Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture (2018). And she’s right, Pretty Woman is not that bad. In fact, it’s great in the way it continually emphasizes active consent through Vivian’s repeated words, “I say who, I say when, I say how much.” The root of which says that Vivian’s body is hers to control. A message that applies to all women (and men for that matter) and that is just as important today, as it was 28 years ago.
Gay outlines that rom-coms do have a formula: boy meets girl, boy or girl falls in love, there’s an obstacle, and then a happily ever after. And that that formula is tried and true. She also expresses the lack of need to re-invent the wheel when it comes to the genre, because attempts to do so are often done badly. Instead of changing the genre, she wants to see more character development for the male leads. Often times the female lead has to be so many things, as is the case in Pretty Woman, where Julia Roberts’ character has to be charming, sexy, interesting and elegant. This is in stark contrast to Richard Gere’s character who simply has to show up in a suit. “Like, what does he do with his free time? What does he look like in jeans? I think that we’re supposed to think that she should just be grateful that this man is going to treat her with a modicum of decency. No. Let’s have some personality, some texture,” pleads Gay.
If you have trouble with the endless options on Netflix, then look no further. Here are Roxane Gay’s top five romantic comedies, outside of Pretty Woman, along with the reasons that she loves them:
- Imagine Me & You (2005), because it’s so sweet and tender.
- No Strings Attached (2011), because she loves when people say “I’m not going to have in love” and then they fall in love.
- Love Jones (1997), because it’s sexy.
- You’ve Got Mail (1998), because it was like a cultural critique of Barnes and Noble.
- Something’s Gotta Give (2003), because it shows that you can be older and have just as messy a love life as someone forty years younger.
Or perhaps you’d like to revisit Pretty Woman. You won’t be sorry you did. If not for the fairy tale romance, then for the wonderfully 80s soundtrack. Here Gay talks about why she still loves the movie today:
Pretty Woman is my favorite movie and has been since I first saw it, in the theatre, in 1990. Back then, I thought Pretty Woman was so romantic. What’s not to love about a down-on-her-luck, charming sex worker meeting a handsome billionaire and the two of them having a whirlwind romance, falling in love, and rescuing each other, as Vivian (Julia Roberts) suggests at the end of the movie? I am older now. I am a feminist. I recognize the problematic nature of Pretty Woman‘s story. I recognize the fallacy of fairy tales, and still, I believe in them. Still, I love romantic comedies and how they make it seem that life and love are not nearly as complicated as we make them out to be. I love all the moments in Pretty Woman that make my heart swell: when Edward (Richard Gere) takes Vivian shopping to ensure she receives better treatment than she did when she went shopping on her own; the warm relationship Vivian develops with hotel manager Barney; how she handles the snobby women at the polo match; and Kit (Laura San Giacomo) and Vivian’s realness as they navigate life on the margins. But most of all, there is the romance, the sex on the piano, the night at the opera, the wild implausibility of this love story — and how willing the movie makes us to believe in that story anyhow. —Roxane Gay
Gay currently has multiple projects in the works including a book of writing advice, an essay collection, and a YA novel entitled The Year I Learned Everything. She would also like to write a romantic-comedy of her own and has her eyes on a dream cast that includes Bad Times at the El Royale’s Cynthia Erivo and Creed II’s Florian Munteanu.
Hollywood has a new love story, starring Tessa Thompson!
Tessa Thompson stars opposite Nnamdi Asomugha in writer-director Eugene Ashe‘s romantic Jazz Era film Sylvie’s Love, which made it’s World Premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 27, 2020.
Set in ’50s and ’60s New York City, the story follows aspiring television producer Sylvie (Thompson) as she meets aspiring saxophonist Robert (Asomugha) when he takes a job at her father’s record store in Harlem. After a summer romance that comes to an end, the two fatefully reconnect several years later and find that their feelings for each other have never disappeared.
“Sylvie’s Love” does not yet have U.S. distribution.
Anne Hathaway on new Role in Netflix Original ‘The Last Thing He Wanted’
Academy award-winning actress Anne Hathaway joined director Dee Rees and co-stars Edi Gathegi, Rosie Perez, and Willem Dafoe for the red carpet premiere of “The Last Thing He Wanted” at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
Adapted from the Joan Didion novel of the same title, the film is set against the nebulous milieu of the Iran-Contra scandal. Veteran D.C. journalist Elena McMahon played by Hathaway abandons the 1984 campaign trail out of a misguided sense of duty to her father.
“The Last Thing He Wanted” will debut on February 21 via Netflix
Actress Kerry Washington takes a Seat at the Hollywood Producer Table
Golden Globe nominated actress set down for in-depth discussion “Women Breaking Barriers: How Far Have We Come?” at the SundanceTV Headquarters, moderated by HFPA member Elisabeth Sereda. Panelists also included Julie Taymor (Oscar nominated director), Frankie Shaw (Golden Globe nominated actress, producer, writer and director) and Lisa Jackson (filmmaker and #1 New York Times Bestselling Author).
Panelists discussed their thoughts on the best ways to continue pushing boundaries and creating positive change in the entertainment business. Having dominated the Hollywood big screen for over 20 years, Washington now has her eyes set on joining the ranks of elite producers. Take a look.
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