Silver Screen Love Stories: Classic and Contemporary

Although Valentine’s Day is behind us, a good romantic movie never goes out of season. From old classics like Casablanca to recent hits such as He’s Just Not That Into You, romantic movies provide us with a very necessary dose of corny one-liners and perfect endings.

The most common love movie archetype is the classic Cinderella story where a poor girl is brought into wealth and culture by a man who has to defy society’s expectations and overcome his own pride. Pretty Woman, directed by Garry Marshall, and Ever After, directed by Andy Tennant, are two romantic movies that successfully use this basic Cinderella storyline.

In the past 20 years, many directors have tried, and often come up short, to put a modern twist on this classic fairy tale romance (take Mark Rosman’s A Cinderella Story, featuring Hillary Duff as an example). Marshall, however, was able to take this classic model and successfully transcend it to a modern setting in his film Pretty Woman, featuring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere.

Pretty Woman is a story about a businessman who hires a prostitute as his escort for a week of high society business meetings, only to fall in love with her. The story subtly comments on the power imbalances in relationships and the vast gap between the upper and lower class.

While the film still follows the structure of a Cinderella story, it is more morally complex than most fairy tales. The film makes us feel for two very unlikely characters: a prostitute and a power-hungry businessman. We forgive the businesses of both characters as we get caught up in this incredibly unlikely romance that begins as a night of solicited sex and ends as an undying love.

In the movie, the main character, Vivian, played by Roberts, refers to the stereotypical love story of being swept off her feet by a knight on a white horse. Gere’s character Edward puts a modern twist on this fantasy by showing up to Vivian’s apartment in a white limousine to confess his love for her. In the end, the two characters save each other from their respective businesses and from a loveless existence.

Although equally as successful, Tennant’s Ever After is a classic take on the Cinderella story model, with only a few small contemporary twists. Ever After follows the story of Cinderella more literally, with a poor girl, Danielle De Barbarac (Drew Barrymore), who is controlled by an evil stepmother and falls in love with a wealthy prince (Dougray Scott). This classic romantic film features straightforward morals and has very few controversial themes. Although slightly contrived, Ever After has a clear sense of right and wrong.

Although Ever After is a classic Cinderella story in plot and themes, the film actually shares some subtle contemporary twists with Pretty Woman. Both films interject strong feminist views into the stories and both heroines are able to think and act for themselves rather than wait for a man to save them.

Danielle in Ever After shows her independence by saving herself from the evil merchant, Pierre Le Pieu, while Vivian in Pretty Woman displays her self-respect by pledging to never kiss a “client” on the lips and by opting to leave Edward when he treats her like a prostitute instead of the woman he loves. A strong heroine is not a typical aspect of most Cinderella stories, so this contemporary twist adds depth and intrigue to the classic fairy tale.

Both the classic film Ever After and the contemporary movie Pretty Woman follow the age-old Cinderella story, while adding a few unexpected, and relatively modern, twists. Although these two cinematic Cinderella stroies differ in many ways, both movies are sure to become timeless films that are definitely not reserved only for Valentine’s Day.