Pretty Women, a 1990 film by Gary Marshall, staring, Richard Gere as Edward Lewis, Julia Roberts as Vivian Ward, and Hector Elizondo as Barney, can be seen as a modern-day version of a timeless classic, My Fair Lady, a 1964 musical film by George Cukor, staring Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle, Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins, and Wilfrid Hyde-White as Colonel Pickering. This fun film adds its own twists to the story, while still keeping the main facts that date all the way back to a play written in 1913 by George Bernard Shaw, titled Pygmalion. The foils to the male characters respectively are the kind older gentleman, Barney Thompson and Colonel Pickering. I see this role of the kind older gentleman as being pivotal because of what he offers to the impoverished girls who are trapped in their situations. They act as a mentor to the young women and treat them like a lady even when they are not sophisticated.
The first act of kindness that Barney and Colonel Pickering commit, is helping the girls, Vivian and Eliza, get the proper attire. Neither of the girls is properly dressed to fit into the worlds that both are currently attempting or desire to be a part of, so each gentleman ensures that they look the part, but it is well known that one cannot just look the part, but that one must also act the part. In Vivian's case, she must learn how to act at an elegant restaurant; however Eliza must learn how to act in all situations of middle- and upper-class society. And in both cases it is the older gentleman mentors who teach them what is proper. Barney teaches Vivian how to eat and act at a restaurant of this caliber; this ranges all the way from knowing which fork to use first and being aware of the fact that she as the lady should sit first. In Eliza's case, Colonel Pickering not only shows her how to properly act, but actually does it on a day to day basis. From the first day he met her own he treated her not as the flower girl that she is but as a queen.
In Pygmalion, Eliza Doolittle says to Colonel Pickering near the end of the movie, "You see really and truly, apart from the things anyone can pick up, the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she's treated. I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins because he always treats me as a flower girl and always will; but I know I can be a lady to you, because you always treat me as a lady, and always will." Eliza says this in Mrs. Higgins' home to Pickering in the presence of her and Henry. However, in the musical film, she just says this to Mrs. Higgins so that Henry can hear. Pickering is not in this scene, for he has gone to the Home Office.
It is from them that they truly learn to be ladies and what it means to be confident. I believe this character is key because, if it had not been not for Barney Thompson and Colonel Pickering, our young women would never have learned to be more than what their circumstances had trapped them into becoming.