How the Julia Robert Movie Ruined Rom-Coms

March 23, 2015 2:02 PM

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How the Julia Robert Movie Ruined Rom-Coms

Twenty-five years ago, a new film reinvigorated a genre and seemed to point a way forward. Pretty Woman, released on March 23, 1990, established Julia Roberts, already an Oscar nominee for her role in Steel Magnolias, as the queen of the romantic comedy. But perhaps more resoundingly, it established the “high-concept”—the story that could be told in a clear, concise logline—as the order of the day for the genre. Romantic comedies of the past had relied on little but chemistry. Pretty Woman established the appeal of extraordinarily high bars to clear for the couple at a film’s center. It was an innovation that brought the genre short-term gains, but long-term obsolescence.

It’s hard to give Pretty Woman too much credit for its originality, considering that, at its center, it’s yet another revision of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion (which also provided grist for the musical My Fair Lady). And yet there’s a real frisson to the story of Los Angeles prostitute Vivian (pl...

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