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Home » Culture and Criticism

The Poppy-Fields Movie Couch Of Fame: Pretty Woman

Submitted by on May 19, 2015 – 10:20 AM29 Comments
Photo: Hulton Archive / Getty

Photo: Hulton Archive / Getty

A hooker with a heart of poppies.

Today's submission comes from Emily Z.

I was shocked — shocked! — to discover that the very first Poppy Fields Hall of Fame award hadn't gone to what I think is the ultimate exemplar of this category: Pretty Woman. And in fact, I think this movie reveals your criteria are somehow lacking, as while it doesn't score highly on many of them, it is to me the ne-plus-ultra irresistible cable movie.

  • lengthy? 119 minutes, so I guess long enough.
  • familiar/frequent? Seriously. I would wager that this has to be in the top ten most-frequently-played cable movies of all time.
  • classic/award-winner? Classic, yes. In that it has entered the American lexicon. You can use the term Pretty Woman in conversation, not even in specific reference to the movie but in reference to the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold or modern-day-Cinderella concept, and everyone will know exactly what you mean. I hadn't realized it, and not that it matters, but Julia was nominated for an Oscar for this role.
  • "Greetings, Professor Falken" (big payoff/long-shot victory a la WarGames)? Well…I guess maybe if you find that last balcony scene where he comes back for her a payoff…but I don't think it quite fits this category. ["I would argue it does. Readers' call." — SDB]
  • "Wanna have a catch?" (Pavlovian tear-jerk; anything with dads opens the ducts for this guy)? Nope.
  • quote-fest? Eh…I'm not a movie quoter, so hard for me to say.
  • caper-ish or -adjacent camaraderie? Nope.
  • "forget you, melon farmer" (you own it, but will still watch bowdlerized TV verzh) Absolutely. No matter how much cable butchers it, or how many commercial breaks they add, I can't turn away.

So I think part of what makes this movie so PFMish is its "redemptive narrative"…many movies I get sucked into have some element of this (from the obvious with The Green Mile, to the less obvious but still in there with Grease)… And it is often extra successfully paired with romance (oh, that great redeemer). Here we get a two-for one — Edward's hardened heart is redeemed by love, and Vivian is of course redeemed out of her life of sin.

But even still — just that alone doesn't explain this movie's power. Is it their chemistry? I don't know. All I know is just give me five minutes, and I've lost the next two hours.

Thanks, Emily! And before I address PW's merits, a note about the criteria: they're really just guidelines, things I noticed that Poppy-Fields Movies tend to have that nevertheless may not explain a given movie's power to becalm. And that's why we nominate instead of writing an algorithm. (Although if somebody wants to do that, I'd be keen to see how/whether it worked.)

So: Pretty Woman. This really did used to be on cable somewhere pretty much all the time. You don't see it as often anymore, I don't feel like — and when you did, it was for me not a grabber. Julia Roberts is one of those actors we tend to see in PFMs (see also: Keanu; Hanks), and I liked the movie when I saw it; I have friends who have seen it a gazillion times, so I've seen it a few dozen, but do I need to have seen it more than once? Not really.

That said, 1) I totally get it and vote in the affirmative even though it doesn't poppy me personally, and 2) it is that rare flower, a Poppy-Fields Movie mentioned as such in a Poppy-Fields Movie of my own, Romy and Michele's ("they won't let her shop!").

As for the quotables, I can't remember any quotes offhand — but it has a handful of iconic shots that get visually quoted in other movies, montages devoted to how great Hollywood is at the Oscars, and so on. The jewelry box snapping shut and Roberts horse-laughing all "ack! …good one" is a timeless bit. And I really like Emily's larger PFM point about redemption narratives, and whether those resonate more strongly for rewatchability. (I also wonder whether we shouldn't add a soundtrack/score criterion. Thoughts welcome.)

Can I dial past Pretty Woman? I can. Do I think it deserves a cushion? I do. Readers, come out on the fire escape and tell us what's what.

[Updated 7/20/15: In there easily.]

The Poppy-Fields Movie Couch Of Fame is here. To nominate your own PFM, email bunting at tomatonation dot com with a rundown of the criteria and your argument for why it deserves a cushion. If I use your entry, free loot shall be thine.

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  • pomme de terre says:

    Hall of Fame PFM for me. SO many quotes!

    "Big mistake. Huge."

    Also a great supporting cast, which tends to be a PFM constant as well.

  • MsMollyD says:

    Yeah absolutely this one qualifies for me. It's predictable and cheesy and I can't not watch it.

  • mspaul says:

    Heh. Working private equity, when people ask me what my company does I very often say, "Well, we don't make anything and we don't build anything. We're basically Richard Gere at the beginning of Pretty Woman."

  • AJ says:

    Sometines…there are three tines…

  • Cora says:

    Oh, come on, what do you mean "nope" at two categories? Look: for "wanna have a catch?", that post-fuck pillow talk scene where she tells him all about how she followed her boyfriend out to CA ending with "The bad stuff is easier to believe" (also a great quote, for that category); and for camaraderie, how can you forget about Laura San Giacomo?! The whole fellow hearts of gold whores looking out for one another relationship? Which yields another quote: "Take care-a yoo." There's lots more to up the score to a definitive yes. Let's DO this.

    Also, I want to nominate Romy and Michelle at some point myself, but that's for later.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    What, you're too busy inventing the quick-burning paper? It takes 5 minutes!

  • Faux McCoy says:

    Gets my vote. Very watchable and equally quotable…

    "50 bucks, Grandpa. For 75, the wife can watch."

  • Isabel C. says:

    I'm always torn on this one: I like a lot of the lines, and the soundtrack, but UGH that thing with the white horse and her suddenly going from practical businesswoman into twee romance girl BARF. (See also: half the things JR has ever done.) Which is not to say that sex workers can't have romance, but…I dunno, I liked her better when she was hard-headed.

  • Angie says:


    LOVE this movie, though having seen it when I was 5 or 6 was maybe not the greatest parenting call my parents made? Because I kind of wanted to be a prostitute afterward.

    Roberts and Gere have tremendous chemistry in this. (which I don't think was matched in Runaway Bride, though that does have it's charms.) But the supporting cast, particularly the wonderful Hector Elizondo and Laura San Giocomo, really lock this movie in for me. Add to that a ridiculously slimy Jason Alexander, pre-God-awful toupee, and an 80s-riffic soundtrack, and you get my vote!

  • Sarah says:


    Definitely gets my vote. I especially crack up now at the fashion–watching 22-year old Julia Roberts dressed up in a baggy, matronly shorts-suit with her hooker friend telling her how great she looks, as I snort into my popcorn.

  • Missicat says:

    "He's not really my uncle".
    "They never are dear"

  • ferretrick says:

    Definitely a poppy field, and oh heck yes, it's got quotes, the most obvious and universal being "BIG mistake! Big, HUGE!" But also:

    "I can do anything I want. I'm not lost."
    "It corners like it's on rails."
    "LIGHTS! Lights would be good here!"-I use this to annoy my partner regularly.
    "But I don't kiss on the mouth."
    Richard Gere's whole speech about opera

    I'm sure there's more, but I have to go shopping now.

  • attica says:

    I bought the soundtrack, which fits in at just about any gathering. It's poppy (heh), sing-along-able, but not distinctive enough that doesn't work just as well as sonic wallpaper.

    I think I only have seen it once, so annoyed was I with the ending. A million other ways a redemption arc could have been resolved without the Return of the Gere. Phooey. (ymmv, of course)

  • Emily says:

    Emily the nominator here — So glad others feel similarly, and also that you've chimed in with the quotables. I'm not a movie quote person, but as soon as I read these I slapped my forehead for not thinking of them when I submitted this! And same with Laura San Giocomo — she is totally adjacent camaraderie!

  • mspaul says:


  • Meg says:

    "Slippery little suckers."

    "It happens all the time."

  • Cora says:

    @Bunting: HA!! ;) No, I'm too busy increasing the viscosity of the epoxide with my glucose derivative. GAHD!

  • Liz says:

    Good call on the short suit – lordy, what were we thinking in the 80s?

    I will now have "King of Wishful Thinking" going through my head the rest of the day. Thanks for the earworm! (Seriously – I could NOT get 'All About That Bass' outta my head. Grrr.)

  • Liz says:

    Oh, and I still want the JR Pretty Woman-ear locks. Such my dream head of hair!

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Liz god-DAMMIT

  • Josh says:

    There is a reason this is the movie that caused the world to Fall In Love with Julia Roberts. Despite the hoary trope of the hooker with a heart of gold, you still find yourself buying it. Any movie that can sucker people into falling for a concept that just shouldn't work has earned it.

    The dialogue does crackle along so well. That bit with Larry Miller:
    Mr. Hollister: Just how obscene an amount of cash are we talking about here? Profane or really offensive?
    Edward Lewis: Really offensive.
    Mr. Hollister: I like him so much.

    hee hee hee!

  • StillAnotherKate says:

    Lewis: She has my credit card.
    Hollister: And we'll help her use it!

    Vivian: How was your day dear?
    Lewis: Nice tie.

    Vivian: In case I forget to tell you later, I had a really good time tonight.

    But the absolute best:
    Older Woman: Did you like the opera dear?
    Vivian: It was so good I almost peed my pants.
    Woman: What?
    Lewis: She said she liked it better than Pirates of Penzance.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    No Have A Catch??? Romy and Michelle disagree!

    "I just get so excited when they finally let her shop!"

  • BMA says:

    "Well color me happy, there's a sofa in here for two!"

    "…and you shouldn't neglect your gums!"

    "The pressure…of a name…"

    I actually don't think there was such fab chemistry between Julia and Richard onscreen…he was very understated/low-key and she was just luminous.
    I think she had better chemistry with Hector Elizondo. The best scenes were either with him, with Laura SanG, the shopping scenes and ones with her wearing the now-iconic outfits. (Polo outfit, black lace dress, red opera dress)

    I just have to say that the very first time I saw it I totally figured out that the only way Richard was gonna find her was if he found out that the driver knows where she lives so I was totally thrilled when Hector told him…I completely CALLED it!

    I vote yes for this most Poppy-Fieldy of movies.

  • Sarah says:


    I still use "Big mistake. Huge." all the time. I really wish I could use it in that exact scenario but alas, I'm not a hooker and I don't have Richard Gere giving me his credit card to go shopping.

    Love it, love watching it.

  • Sandman says:

    "Those are two very specific examples of crackheads."
    "Yo, Viv, babe — could you come down here? The Sphincter Police won't let me come up." Kit gets most of the best lines.

    But I use "Hey, these are broken — mine are broken!" all the time. And not just at the opera.

    Total CoF win here. (I'm such a goon: Am I the only one who gets a little melty when Thomson (Elizondo) calls her, with growing affection, "Miss Vivian"?)

  • DensityDuck says:

    I almost got fired from a job for referring to the security patrol as the Sphincter Police.

    (I'm all, dude, what? I thought everyone knew that line!)

  • Jesse says:

    Pretty Woman is the epitome of a movie that is great to watch and terrible to think about.

  • Jo says:

    I'm with Jesse. This is a movie I will watch and enjoy when it's on, but when I consider the actual plot, it's pretty awful.

    I do like "Big mistake. Huge."

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