The marriage plot has been quite prominent in the film industry over the past few decades. The plot that is characterized by its lead woman getting the lead man and vice versa, has contributed to such movie blockbusters as Pretty Woman and the classic film, Pillow Talk. While both films can be classifies as containing marriage plots, the films share other similarities as well. However, in regards to the marriage plot, Pretty Woman follows the pattern much more fluently and precisely that does Pillow Talk.
Both Julia Roberts and Doris Days characters, Vivian and Jan, respectively, are strong women in their films. They both contain quite a few characteristics such as boldness, confidence, and intelligence that make them very attractive and desirable to their male counterparts. While their professions are quite opposite, the women are similar in their personalities. Jan is an interior designer and her history with men is not troublesome or lacking, but like Vivian, the prostitute, she finds that men are sometimes after only one thing. I noticed that both women are extremely confident when it comes to dealing with men; they both know what they want and what the are looking for in a male companion.
The men in these two movies are quite similar as well. Both Rock Hudson and Richard Gere play two powerful men who are popular with the ladies. Although Hudsons career, a musician, is not typically powerful it does contain benefits and certain contacts that could be considered powerful. These two men both start out with the women practically chasing them. Vivian is paid to be Edwards (Gere) beck and call girl, and does so willingly not just for the money, but because she is also mesmerized by his coyness, charm and good looks. Jan is attracted to Rex (Hudson) because he is also shy and coy and very handsome as well.
Both women are interested in their counterparts for the particular reason that they are not men they typically meet. These men are respectful and somewhat quiet and shy. Each plot takes a turn towards the end of the movie when the women leave them, each for different reasons. Ironically and typical of the marriage plot, it then become the man chasing the woman. He is to prove his worthiness to her and to dismiss her conclusion that he, in fact, is like all other men they have encountered.
According to Radner, a key element of the marriage plot is that the woman is of lower status than the male and she is practically the chosen one in his eyes. The woman then finds validation of (her) uniqueness and importance by being singled out among all other women by this man (Radner 57). This is certainly true in Pretty Woman, for Vivian is definitely not the norm for Edward. He has before chosen women that can be regarded as classy and in the upper social class. Ironically, although he does indeed choose Vivian, the prostitute, it is only after he has transformed her taste from streetwalker trashy to Rodeo Drive classy.
As for Pillow Talk, Jan is already of such a class that can be deemed very respectable. Hudson, as well, is of the same class and we can tell this merely by the fact that they share the same friends and acquaintances. So, it is this detail that I question that Pillow Talk can be entirely categorized as a marriage plot. While both movies share another marriage plot characteristic, which is that the heroine contributes to the goodness of the hero. She teaches, in essence, him to feel for others and to take their feelings and emotions into consideration. Jan reforms Rex by showing him what love truly is and to mot be a playboy and Vivian does the same to Edward which is shown in his corporate endeavors.
Also essential to the marriage plot is the male gaze. It is so prominent in both films that it is hard to miss. It seems that every time either Gere or Hudson would eye up the heroine, the music was played accordingly or the lighting was following his eyes to their target.
What comes to mind when I think of the male gaze and Pillow Talk is the scene in the ballroom/bar when Jan first meets Rex. Right when he first realizes that the beautiful woman on the dance floor is also his adversary on his party line, he makes the comment, So thats what the other side of her looks like. He is obviously pleased and the music of the ballroom smoothly follows his eyes.The male gaze is also a staple with Gere in Pretty Woman. Often throughout the movie he eyes up Vivian with a stare that shows his hidden intentions and his desire for her. It is perhaps most obvious to me when Vivian is talking to the jockey at the polo game. Edwards look towards her show is jealousy, his desire and yet it also shows his approval of her.
The male gaze is prominent in both movies and it is also quite important. The heroes both feel they are men to be reckoned with and that he has not found a woman that could equal his mentality or status. What their eyes begin to focus on is the woman that they never expected to be attracted. There are so many emotions, feelings and words in the male gaze and I think that is what makes it so important in these films. These men are captivated by their heroines because they are so opposite of them. The way the heroes look at these women is seemingly full of passion and attraction.
The male gaze, alone, is charming to the audience but it is the mood of the scene that makes it more important. The lighting, music, and overall dialog help to make the gaze more enchanting. The hero, to me, also plays a huge role in the male gaze. I dont feel that someone like Jim Carrey could pull off the gaze in a romantic comedy. Gere and Hudson are attractive yet mysterious men that, when they gaze, they either look hard with intensity or they kind of put their head to the side and gaze longingly. Either way, the look is something that is particular to each man and makes it more believable and personable.
While both movies include the standard marriage plot, they do not leave the audience feeling as though theyve experienced de-ja vu. Each film has original ideas and characters that make the marriage plot successful. Whereas the films are quite similar in some aspects, their differences make them better. However unoriginal the marriage plot actually is, these movies make the staple story line inventive and unique.
WORKS CITEDCollins, Jim and Ava and Hilary Radner. Film Theory Goes to the Movies. New York: Routledge, 1993. Music and Movies