Why ‘Pretty Woman’ is a funny Valentine

Damn Julia Roberts. Damn her charm and intelligence. Damn her easy laugh, gangly-limbed grace, oceanic charisma, the Georgia lilt to her voice that speaks of hard work, humidity and perfectly ripe peaches. Damn it all.

Let's be clear: I love Julia Roberts. She's one of the few people – along with George Clooney, perhaps, and Meryl Streep – who would have been a guaranteed box-office bonanza whether she'd pitched up in Hollywood in the 1910s, when the streets were still lined with lemon trees; in the 1940s, when fast-talking dames were all the rage; or in the 1970s, when women were often given nothing much to do on screen whatsoever. (She would have shone through the machismo like a beacon.) But it's because Roberts is so guilelessly compelling that she ­managed to turn one of the most sexist, soupy, stupid premises of all time into a hit movie. Damn her for Pretty Woman.

Plenty of people love Pretty Woman, of course. The film is one of the highest-grossing romantic comedies in history, raking in more than $450m to date and sending Roberts into the stratosphere (she was in her early 20s when the film was made and quickly became the highest-paid woman in Hollywood). In fact, the film was such a success that it's about to get a Valentine's weekend re-release to mark its 20th ­anniversary. These celebratory screenings will hit cinemas at the same time as the inventively titled Valentine's Day, the new film from Pretty Woman's director, Garry Marshall, which includes Roberts in its sprawling cast. (The film's intertwined Los Angeles love stories have been described as "Love, Actually, without the irony": could there be a more blood-curdling prospect?)

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