Saturday 25 June 2011

Movie Review: Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961)

A cultural and stylistic landmark, Breakfast At Tiffany's is a timeless classic, capturing a society moving into a decade of enormous change, and doing it with panache.

When Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) is depressed, she eats breakfast on the sidewalk looking through the Tiffany's store window in New York. Living with her cat (named Cat) but otherwise very alone in her apartment, Holly's life is a series of encounters with men who seek her company and pay well for it. She classifies them as rats or super-rats, depending on how loathsome they are. Holly is desperately seeking happiness, fulfilment and riches; but she is unwilling to surrender her heart or her life to any true relationship. She even stoops to the level of getting paid to visit a locked-up crime boss, oblivious she is being used to transmit his commands.

Struggling author Paul Varjak (George Peppard) moves into another apartment in the same building. Women find him attractive, particularly Mrs. Failenson (Patricia Neal), a decorator willing to pay Paul for his calculated affection. Holly wants to keep Paul strictly as a friend, and does her best to deny their growing connection. Her former husband Doc (Buddy Ebsen) shows up in New York pleading with her to return to Texas, but Holly prefers a life of independent struggle to the comfort of anonymity. Eventually she reaches a critical decision point: her prospects look grim, unless she lowers the fence around her heart.

Holly Golightly is a representative icon for women rocketing from the predictability of the 1950s into the uncertain 1960s: sexually liberated, seeking love on her terms, forging an independent identity, making new connections in a freedom-obsessed society, and pressured to revert to the old but safe environment. And there are no playbooks to guide her, only instincts and self-belief. 

That Holly grapples with the big decisions in life so stylishly is a big part of Breakfast At Tiffany's appeal. The ridiculously oversized cigarette holder; the Givenchy dresses; the hats, sunglasses, and  jewellery: rarely has a single film had such an indelible impact on fashion. Craving unaffordable luxury also starts here: Holly never has any money, and she nevertheless looks gloriously fashionable wondering where the next dollar is going to come from.

Working from the novella by Truman Capote and a script by George Axelrod, director Blake Edwards assembles all the pieces of Breakfast At Tiffany's into a dazzling tapestry. He augments the visual appeal of his stars and setting with Henri Mancini's music, the spine-tingling theme song Moon River instantly claiming a place among the classic tunes of Hollywood. Edwards elegantly inserts the song throughout the movie without overexposing it. Humour is also judiciously deployed, the party scene in Holly's apartment a chaotic joy. 

Despite being cast against her wholesome image, Audrey Hepburn pulls off the role magnificently while enshrining her quiet grace and beauty, combining Holly's fun-loving innocence with a hard edged determination to keep her heart secure. George Peppard is adequate as Paul, never catching fire but holding his own. Mickey Rooney's portrayal of upstairs comic relief neighbour Mr. Yunioshi is an unfortunate yellowface misfire amplifying Asian stereotypes.

Breakfast At Tiffany's is soulful, hopeful and pragmatic. The prize is on the other side of the window, tantalizingly within reach, but at what cost.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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