Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Steel Cage Match: Pretty Woman vs. Mighty Aphrodite

Two hookers with hearts of gold enter the arena . . . only one will make it out alive.

After the Amelie vs. Black Swan showdown instigated by the 1001 blog, I thought I might send a few other similarly themed flicks into the steel cage and see whose got the right stuff.

Plot: Pretty Woman chronicles the fairy tale romance of a Hollywood working girl (Julia Roberts) who meets her Prince Charming--well, she meets Richard Gere, who isn't initially super charming, but is rich. Just like Cinderella, if Cinderella were a prostitute. Mighty Aphrodite follows sportswriter Lenny (Woody Allen) as he hunts down the biological mother of his precocious son, and discovers she is a New York working girl (Mira Sorvino). He proceeds in increasingly ill-fated attempts to get her to change her wicked ways. Just like Pygmalion, if Galatea were a prostitute. And a porn star.

How committed are they to the whole hooker thing? Well, both have violent pimps. Sorvino's gets more screen time, but he's played for laughs. Julia nearly gets raped by her john's friend, a decidedly un-Seinfeldian Jason Alexander. Sorvino blithely and graphically describes a gang bang.

How offended am I by the notion that both films suggest becoming a prostitute is a good way to improve your life? Well, at least Mighty Aprhodite puts the "save the bad girl" theme right up front. However, Roberts's Vivienne is the moral and emotional heart of Pretty Woman, whereas Sorvino's Linda is pretty much made fun of the entire movie. And despite what Sorvino herself said in an interview for Woody Allen: A Documentary, Allen is not particularly noted for his subtle and compassionate characterizations of women.

Are either of them any good? Look, I'm not immune to the lure of a late-night viewing of Pretty Woman on TBS. And both films raked in the awards (Pretty Woman owned the Golden Globes, and Sorvino got a Best Supporting Actress Oscar). But I've got to say, the innovation of a literal Greek chorus in MA, and the intrusiveness of Oedipus, Jocasta, Tiresias and Cassandra in the plot is pretty genius. And, there's a musical number. Win.

The Victor? Mighty Aphrodite. I'm an Allen apologist from way back. This contest was decided before it began.

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