I didn't expect a whole lot out of this film. I'm vaguely aware of the modern critiques of the film and it's treatment of women and prostitution in particular. I just had a feeling it would be a movie that hadn't aged well. Oddly enough, I found I was kind of wrong. Also kind of right. This may be a multi-paragraph review, actually. Anyway, the film is, if not thoughtful, at least smarter than I expected. It has enough dark moments to keep it from feeling completely silly. Roberts certainly gives a starmaking performance; even as someone that's not really a fan, I can see why this performance catapulted her to stardom. It's a winning, charming, funny performance. The movie definitely gets some humor from the fish out of water scenario.
But there's some darkness to leaven the film; it's not a dark and gritty film or anything even approaching either of those things, but the moments are appreciated. A love scene in a darkened hotel lounge is genuinely disturbing, only a discordant piano serving as soundtrack. It's probably Marshall's best directed scene; of his entire career, I mean. And toward the end, as the relationship begins to fracture, there are a lot of quite pithy and stinging lines. Roberts sells the line, "Why do men always know just how to hit a woman?" like it's a joke, but it still stings. And when Gere snaps, "I never treated you like a prostitute," the sheer unselfawareness of the man, the total cluelessness he has about the way he treats women, is genuinely shocking and Roberts expression only seals the deal. These moments aren't enough do anything like redeem the movie, but they're appreciated, the more so because they aren't expected.
Gere, by the way, is another actor I've never been a fan of. He always seems to have an aloofness, a sort of cold distance from whatever movie he's in. But here he absolutely uses that his advantage; it's a strikingly minimal performance and it's really the first genuinely excellent performance I've seen from him.
Jason Alexander is really astonishing as well. He, at first, seems to be playing his typical "somewhat slimy comic relief" role, but as the film progresses, he reveals layers of darkness. And the film is insightful enough to tie the scene in which he sexually assaults Roberts to his rage, not to his sexual desire. That insight, that men commit rape out of the desire for power, not sexual gratification, helps to make the scene as disturbing as it is, which is very.
But the last ten minutes of the film really do come off as offensive and somewhat indefinsible, unless you let the film become exactly what the characters have been saying it isn't: a fairy tale. Your willingness to let the film make this hairpin turn may vary; I wasn't willing to allow it. In a film with more than a little hokeyness already, the ending is simply a bridge too far for my tastes.
Anyway, I expected to have a reaction to the film much like the one I had to Risky Business last year, namely that it was a dated, offensive, completely wrong-headed treatment of women. Surprisingly, the reaction wasn't that. It was a troubling film, but not deeply offensive on its face. It wants to have moments of darkness, but retain its genre classification as a romantic comedy - it's somewhat reminiscent of Obvious Child, a movie I recently saw in that. This one, like that one, finds the feat more difficult to pull off than it expected. I'm genuinely not sure; it may actually be impossible. Still, I've thought about the film a whole lot over the past few days, probing the film and my reaction to it. So, it's a genuinely troubling and thoughtprovoking film. That doesn't mean it's great or even very good, though for a while, I was toying with a *** 1/2 star rating, which qualifies as Very Good. But ultimately, I don't think I can recommend it across the board; it doesn't overcome it's genre enough for that. So, it's a recommendation if you're interested in things like the career of Julia Roberts or gender roles in film. And, frankly, that's better than I thought I'd treat it, so color me surprised. Good movie, ultimately. Recommended if you're interested. *** stars.