We’ve seen Julia Roberts as an environmental lawyer in Erin Brockovich, a southern belle in Steel Magnolias, and the girl next door in My Best Friend’s Wedding, but she will always be Pretty Woman to me. Wild with her fiery red locks and irresistible when she sings in the bathtub to Prince, Roberts captured American hearts when she played Vivian, a prostitute who was only looking for her next hundred bucks when she found the love of a lifetime instead. Ron Fair executed the soundtrack selections to go along with this unexpected romance, accompanying both sensual interactions and fun scenes around Los Angeles. As a romantic comedy, the movie contains a lot of upbeat music, all of which does an excellent job in creating particular moods and evoking feelings in the audience (Understanding Movies, Sound). The music does a couple of things especially well; it helps me see things from Vivian’s perspective but also lets me watch her journey from the outside. It’s interesting to compare both of the shopping scenes when Vivian goes to Rodeo Drive.
Because Vivian is a prostitute without a suitable wardrobe for high society events, Edward instructs her to buy clothing. The first time she shops, she wears a leotard and we hear Wild Women Do by Natalie Cole. This is toward the beginning of the movie when she has little to no understanding of what a shopping trip to Rodeo Drive even entails. The saleswomen judge her based on her trashy attire and refuse to serve her. This is also around the time when Edward is still getting used being around a prostitute. He and Vivian come from opposite social classes and if that isn’t enough, their personalities are completely different. Wild Women Do is a fun and catchy song but the lyrics resonate with Edward and Vivian’s budding relationship. The words represent how she is a free-spirited confident woman who is intriguing a shy and timid businessman. The implication is that the woman – Vivian – is going after the man.
In juxtaposing this moment with the next time Vivian shops, viewers can see a shift in her appearance, and how the producers want her to be perceived to the saleswomen and audience. While Roy Orbison’s Oh Pretty Woman does not necessarily make any direct references to a change in status, the main adjective in the song is pretty as opposed to wild. In this scene, Vivian dresses up in her fanciest clothes and goes back to the saleswomen who originally sent her out of the store. She shows off her new wardrobe and carries shopping bags from lots of other stores. Unlike the first song, this one suggests that the man – Edward – is now going after the woman. Furthermore, this song is the most highly associated with the movie, and if anything the movie gives the song its claim to fame.
Film composers work hard to capture the spirit and themes in a movie, but even carefully selected music that is written independently of the movie scenes can contribute to the growth of a character (Music and Mood). The music in Pretty Woman is not necessarily mickeymousing (Understanding Movies, Sound) because it doesn’t ever make literal references to the situation but it’s chosen well enough that it sparks a fun mood in viewers and embodies Vivian’s character very successfully depending on the time in the movie. It was a clever tactic to show similar scenes with different music. Ultimately, the songs in Pretty Woman are perfect for setting the mood and helping transform Julia Roberts into an unruly streetwalker to an elegant and put-together but still fun-loving lady.