Breakfast at Tiffany’s – 1961
Director – Blake Edwards
Starring – Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, and Mickey Rooney
I’ve heard for years about Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Nothing concrete mind you, nothing in-depth about the plot, the themes, the writing, or any of the lead or supporting actors. Apparently, what I had been hearing about was Audrey Hepburn. Her style, her grace, and most of all her fashion sense. While by and large Audrey is most definitely deserving of all the acclaim she has garnered over the years, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is definitely it’s own beast, above and beyond such things.
For those, like me, who have only been privy to random rumblings about minor aspects of this film, here is a breakdown of the story. Audrey Hepburn plays the young, beautiful, quirky, carefree, flakey, and wholly unreliable Holly Golightly, a character who wrote the book on what real-life actresses like Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel, and Chloe Sevigny have built plenty of their roles on. Her charm and magnetism carries her through life, drawing people to her both for good and ill. She seems to live in a bubble protecting her from any real sort of responsibility, keeping her real thoughts and feelings at an arm’s-length from anyone who might try to get close to her. Mind you that doesn’t stop anyone from trying, prospective suitors, friends, and even family, keep trying to reel her back into reality, and are forever willing to forgive her for struggling to keep them away.
Even the square-jawed, perfectly coiffed, understanding, new neighbor, Paul Varjack (played by a George Peppard with super Technicolor blue eyes), runs into the same brick wall that everyone else does. Where everyone else eventually gets the hint, Paul maintains his pursuit of Holly despite her track record of flighty behavior, and gold-digger-esque tendencies. Paul himself is a slave to what made him a success as well. His claim to fame is a novel that he wrote with the support of his well-to-do mistress, without whom he would still be in dwelling in relative obscurity.
Assuming both Holly and Paul were able to maintain the same frame of mind, they would make a good couple, but Paul has grown tired of his shallow existance, and yearns for something else. In the end, all of Holly’s qualities that attract Paul, end up keeping him at arm’s length. The free-spirited, irresponsible behavior that seems so attractive at first, ends up actually being a bundle of paranoia and anxiety, unable to let go of a failed formula for love and success. That isn’t quite the glamorous image that is presented in the marketing of the film.
This film is much closer to the films of the seventies than it’s release date lets on. It is more concerned with the exploration of the damaged side of the young miss Golightly, and mr. Varjack than it is with showing off the lush, lavish, fun lifestyle of the sixties. It seeks to juxtapose the unfulfilled, unhappiness that both Paul and Holly are subject to, with the carefree party lifestyle that both are living (on the surface anyway). In the end, non-stop drinking, lurid rendezvous’ with faceless strangers, and the absence of any sort of responsibility will only contribute to the feeling of worthlessness. Holly’s telephone, locked away in her suitcase, is representative of her isolation from and fear of the actual relationships, commitments, and everything else encompassed by “the real world”.
On script writing duties is Truman Capote, a man who I know little about although I’m more curious than ever to read more of his work.
The director, Blake Edwards is no stranger to popular, well regarded movies. Though this does seem to have a somewhat deeper subtext than a lot of his other movies, it does share a fair amount with some of his other films (I’m going from memory here, it’s been a while since I’ve seen anything.), most notably “The Party” from 1968. The party scenes in both films share a certain voyeuristic quality as the audience simply observes the merriment and mayhem as it happens. They don’t so much expound upon what we already know of our characters as much as they give us a inkling of the time and the place in which they live. There is some humor there, but it is more descriptive than it seems on the surface.
I have to say I was surprised by how much I liked this film. On paper, a film about two broken socialites doesn’t seem all that engaging to me. I really like Audrey Hepburn, in everything I’ve seen her in, so it was a no-brainer that I’d like her here, but I can’t shake the image of George Peppard as Hannibal from the A-Team, so he was a bit of a harder sell at the outset. It’s a good thing he didn’t smoke a cigar in this film or my suspension of disbelief would have been gone and it would have pulled me out of the film entirely.
Truthfully though, his character, Paul, was the real heart of the film. While Holly, along with her sense of style, is the centerpiece of the film, Peppard does most of the heavy lifting in terms of character growth, exposition, and engagement with the audience. Peppard is to Hepburn what Joseph Cotton is the Orson Welles in “The Third Man”.
The film’s one failing grace, and really it’s just a sign of the times in which it came out, was the overtly racist, and unflattering view of asian culture put forth in the form of Holly’s upstairs neighbor, Mr. Yunioshi played by the shitty Mickey Rooney. Rooney’s portrayal serves no purpose except for getting cheap laughs at the expense of a people perceived as being simply ignorant, pajama-wearing, slow-witted, buffoons. Luckily it doesn’t ruin the rest of the film, though it is unfortunate.
All in all I would say the film paints an accurate picture of loneliness, and as a bonus it crafts a realistic and satisfying ending that allows the characters to grow beyond their selfish, opulent trappings. Overall, I’d say it’s definitely well worth the time, and worth a watch.
“Don’t worry. The cat’s fine.” – Ashley