Garry Marshall Revisited One Year After his Death

(Welcome to What Women Watch, a series exploring what modern women are watching, and loving, on the big and small screens. In this edition, we examine the work of the late Garry Marshall and the fingerprints he’s forever left on the romantic comedy.)

I don’t like to call them chick flicks.”

It has been one year since we lost Garry Marshall and the world has felt a little darker for it. Marshall is one of those filmmakers that has felt more like a comforting friend – Pretty Woman was my late grandmother’s favorite movie and I have probably seen it more times than Cinderella. It’s still my favorite fairytale. When my husband leaves (and since he’s in the military, that is quite often), it is the first movie I watch. During the stressful times when he is gone, I also find myself watching Marshall’s other films, like Runaway Bride or Valentine’s Day, not because they are masterpieces of American cinema, but because, while the other half of the bed is cold, those movies keep me warm.

That may sound hokey, but I mean that with all sincerity. While the world is ready to cringe at anything that feels too…well anything just feels, Garry Marshall offered sincerity in spades. He never shied away from it, his films were heartwarming for the sake of being heartwarming and for that I am forever thankful.

Although that concept might not appeal to everyone, and some of it might even seem dated, it is important to remember that without Marshall, the modern romantic comedy would not exist. With Pretty Woman, Garry Marshall cemented a formula that became a fountainhead for a genre that has flourished over nearly 30 years. It has evolved and taken new forms, but the foundations are the same, most notably in the form of Judd Apatow and the age of the R-rated romcom. Though something as tame as Pretty Woman seems a far cry from something like Knocked Up or Trainwreck, these films are cousins. Marshall offered a blend of dramatic conflict, romance and humor, but he also showcased respect for every relationship in a story, whether it be the romance at the core or the family and friends by their side.

garry marshall 3

“I try to find scripts of stories that kinda celebrate the human condition…let’s talk about the tough world out there and the human spirit overcoming adversity.”

Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy screws it up. Boy and girl reconcile. Happily ever after. The central theme to any romantic comedy. However, part of the beauty of love is its ability to conquer over the most dreadful of conditions and tragedies. It is the key to humanity. When you take something like a love story and you lay it under shallow conflict, you ignore the very constitution of love. Garry Marshall never wasted time on petty conflicts. Going back further than Pretty Woman, Beaches explored the idea of soul mates through friends, tackling everything from jealousy to mortality. If love is supposed to conquer all, then the stories that revolve around it should do it justice.

Pretty Woman deals with a number of ideas that seem gritty on the surface. People refer to Vivian as the “hooker with a heart of gold,” but I don’t see her as an exception. It is not a stretch to believe that many women in her situation can possess a heart of gold. Unfortunately, too many people just don’t view sex workers as people. A modern retelling of Cinderella, Pretty Woman dives heavily into classicism. Not just the surface level variety, as represented in the iconic Rodeo Drive sequence, but the twisted kind that leads to Vivian being sexually assaulted while Stuckey calls her a “fifty dollar whore.” At this point, she has the expensive clothes, she has gained the admiration and respect of the upper class from Edward to Mr. Morse, and she has learned to respect and love herself…and yet a rich and powerful man like Stuckey still sees her as less than human. The sad part is that the scene doesn’t even feel forced or over-the0top. It feels sincere for a man like Stuckey. Pretty Woman is a heartwarming love story with the scope to take on the darker side of man.

In Garry Marshall’s later films, he addresses a wide variety of situations of the “human spirit overcoming adversity.” In Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve, and Mother’s Day, Marshall juggles all forms and fashions of love and the struggles that go along with them. New Year’s Eve has a seven percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and yet the scene where the hardworking nurse, played by Halle Berry, dresses up just to Skype with her deployed husband for five minutes to tell him, “Happy new year” (while the city outside of the hospital walls is hosting the biggest NYE party in the world) is one of the most honest and sincere portrayals of what that situation actually feels like that I have seen. There is nothing petty about that.

Judd Apatow strongly follows Garry Marshall’s model of never handling anything too lightly. His movies are thick ideas dodged by movies with less nerve. From unplanned pregnancy to depression, Apatow’s stories and characters are never simple. He handles, with honesty and heart, what a marriage can look like after years of forcing a connection that isn’t always there. In a strange way, there is even a connection between Seth Rogen’s character, Ben, in Knocked Up and Vivian in Pretty Woman, as two people who just can’t seem to see their own potential in a world that treats them like trash. When love ultimately triumphs in these stories, it feels big and bold and all-consuming. It signifies not only the triumph of love between people, but a triumph of self-love that each character needs in order to overcome the obstacles to accepting themselves.

Continue Reading Garry Marshall Revisited >>

Pages: 1 2Next page

Cool Posts From Around the Web: