Pretty Woman is a modern film that tells a Cinderella story. Many motifs from the original story are seen repeated in the movie. Vivian Ward and Edward Lewis are the main characters in the film. Vivian is a prostitute in Los Angeles and Edward is a wealthy businessman.
From the start of the film, Edward sees Vivian on the street and he hires her to be his escort for the week as he attends several important business meetings. This is the start of his ‘saving’ her from her life of degradation. With his help throughout the film she transforms and become a ‘princess’. This supports the ‘rags to riches’ storyline. Vivian is very insecure and vulnerable at the beginning. She wants to come, be paid for, and perform and then leave as quickly as she can. One of the first things Vivian tells him after they arrive at his penthouse suite is “When people put you down enough, you start to believe it”. She feels degraded and worthless in her work, since she is merely paid for her sexual services. As she becomes more friendly and comfortable with Edward, she begins to tell him what her mother thinks of her chasing after “bums” and how she feels working as a hooker.
Like the Cinderella character, Vivian is kind and pretty, when she is not trying too hard in her hooker clothes and makeup. She wears a blond wig at the beginning, probably to boost her clientele; however after discovering that Edward doesn’t want to sleep with her the first night, she returns to her natural and long red hair. When she visits the clothing stores, she clearly stands out both in her attire and her physical appearance. This is why the saleswomen judge her and refuse to help her when she comes alone. She later tells Edward they were “mean” to her, thus likening them to the ugly stepsisters in the story and Disney film versions. The hotel manager and Edward both help Vivian to find suitable clothes for all the meetings. This likens them to the fairy godmother (godfather, in this case) and prince, respectively.
Her kind and bubbly personality is able to break through Edward’s seemingly rough exterior. She gets him to face his own problems and work through them too. She teaches him about kindness and eventually he decides to not overtake Morse’s company, as he had originally planned. He also mentions his fear of heights to her as they are talking the first night. By the end of the film when he goes to rescue her and profess his love, he conquers that fear by climbing the fire escape to get up to her apartment.
The ending is romantic and typical of a fairytale, but it is also slightly different from the original Cinderella tale. The prince (Edward) does not seek out Cinderella (Vivian) by a lost shoe; rather their relationship develops from time spent together. This is actually much more plausible than the Cinderella tale where they spent one evening together dancing and they know they are destined to be together. That seems typical of a fairy tale, but the story in Pretty Woman is much better developed. Overall, Pretty Woman is a re-telling of the quintessential fairy tale.