Everybody loves a good Cinderella story: the idea of being lifted from poverty and obscurity to claim the level of financial comfort/excess the universe owes you for making you suffer through that poverty/obscurity to begin with. There’s just so much hope in it — hope that you too can transform into the unrealistic ideal of conventional white beauty (and then use the resulting social power to crush your enemies); hope for a Disney™ FastPass out of capitalism’s systemic oppression and social injustice.
And that’s what this week’s double feature is here to teach us: that (as long as you’re already a skinny white woman) there’s hope for your future yet.
Pretty Woman is a classic passive aggressive revenge narrative.
With the help of a male hospitality worker (Hector Elizondo) and a male retail worker (Larry Miller), Julia Roberts emerges from her chrysalis of financial/social insecurity and spreads her beautiful, extravagantly financed wings to cast a shadow upon those below her.
Think back to Pretty Woman’s arguably most iconic scene: when Julia Roberts returns, dressed in all her bougie, shoulder-padded glory, to the shop on Rodeo drive where she had been snubbed the day before (“Big mistake. Big. Huge.”). This scene is so memorable because this is the moment when Julia Roberts really performs her ascension from rags (decidedly below the retail worker within this capitalist framework) to riches (quite vehemently above).
And isn’t that what bourgeois womanhood is all about? Establishing your dominance over other women through displays of conjugally acquired wealth? Isn’t this admittedly snotty shop clerk (note: the one who works on commission, and thus relies on social cues of affluence for her living — if a check bounces or a card is declined, she takes nothing home) a better target for Julia Robert’s frustration and shame for her former self than, say, lecherous George Costanza (who, upon learning she is a sex worker, attempts to rape her)?? Doesn’t that just make so much sense???
The Princess Diaries
For even more of this frustrating intra-gender conflict, turn then to The Princess Diaries!
With the help of Dame Julie Andrews’s general factotum (Hector Elizondo) and Paolo (Larry Miller), Anne Hathaway emerges from her chrysalis of emotional/social insecurity and spreads her conventionally beautiful wings to chase after self-actualization (with little — selfishly little — thought to those below her).
This whole movie is about Anne Hathaway gaining the confidence to be who she truly is — I mean, she learns to stand up to bullies and friends and she asks out that greasy guitarist with the killer eyebrows. And due to her newfound confidence and shiny, shiny hair, she comes to the conclusion that her peers’ opinions are of no consequence to her inner happiness (and thus, functionally, of no consequence at all).
But, this conclusion only really works for her because she has options that, say, Julia Roberts, does not: she is privileged within the system because “who [Anne Hathaway] truly is” is still a princess, y’know? Her direct relation to Dame Julie Andrews excludes her from any real need to compete within the Mandy Moore-constructed market of social capital, so her dismissal of that market comes at basically no cost to her actual social capital (as a Princess) or her overall lifetime happiness (as a PRINCESS).
Within the context of the narrative, Anne Hathaway devalues both the high school social structure and the life/thoughts/feelings of its constructor(s) (as well as those of the people who depend on that constructed market for their social capital). It’s like she’s just saying: reject Mandy Moore’s imposed microcosmic hierarchy (reject Mandy Moore and all that she has/is; reject those chumps who might buy into her system) and take your place within the larger, actual socio-economic machine, where you are Literally a Princess.
Like, escape capitalism by just assuming reign of a small European country; just blow right past it and head straight into monarchy. Live the Dream.
But, for those of us who can’t quite manage that Dream — for lack of royal blood or a wealthy sponsor — we can hopefully use these movies to satisfy that sad, striving part of ourselves (the part that may ever have longed to dethrone the Mandy Moore archetype) such that when we actually interact with other women in our real lives, we can be supportive and understanding, as we/they deserve.
P.S. Fun Facts about The Princess Diaries:
Both The Princess Diaries and Pretty Woman were directed by Garry Marshall.
Hector Elizondo and Larry Miller were not the only actors to reprise a role from Pretty Woman. See also: Allan Kent (the waiter at the State Dinner), who reassures Mia when she breaks her glass by saying “It happens all the time;” same guy, same line when Julia Roberts flings a snail across the fancy french restaurant.
Also, when Dame Julie Andrews said she was interested in the movie but wanted more screen time (meaning that they had to cut out all the scenes with Mia’s dad and give those lines to Dame Julie Andrews), Meg Cabot was on board the “Cut Him” train before anyone could even finish the words “Dame Julie Andrews”. Same, Meg Cabot. Hard Same.