I’m hosting a bunco game next month. My theme is “Breakfast at Tiffany’s/Autumn in New York”. I picked the dual theme because they are both wonderful movies, set in a wonderful place, at a wonderful time of year.
I’ve been planning the party for several months. So you can imagine my delight to find that today, September 20, is the 50th anniversary of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. It’s a no-brainer then that it’s my movie of choice for my weekly review.
SPOILER ALERT: MOVIE DETAILS REVIEWED. Read at your own discretion.
Based on Truman Capote’s 1958 novella of the same name, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is a definite favorite. Set in New York City in October and starring Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard, its timeless story of finding yourself through love, laughter, tears and trials, has become a classic film enjoyed by each generation since its premiere in 1961.
Right off the bat, it piques the attention. On the corner of 5th Avenue and 57th Street in NYC is the historic façade of Tiffany & Co., where a lone cab deposits Holly Golightly, dressed to the nines and all alone. The rest of the City is sleeping. While window shopping she enjoys her coffee and pastry. Henry Mancini’s melancholy instrumental “Moon River” adds a twinge of lonely hope, and we already feel our tears being formed.
The characters in this story are brilliantly complex. In their first meeting, our pair discover they have a mutual bond of being young, single, and in want of a better life. They form an instant roller-coaster friendship, borne of convenience as much as foundation.
George Peppard’s portrayal of the book’s narrator, Paul Varjak, is Holly’s newest neighbor, a struggling writer… and a kept man. Throughout the movie, he waivers from feeling inadequate and emasculated to finding the strength to take care of, and eventually walk away from, Holly. He enjoys her company and her support while he has it, and never gives up believing she’s only hiding her true self from the world.
Holly is a young woman who makes ends meet by accepting dates from men who give her $50 for the powder room, and by giving the weather report to incarcerated mob boss, Sally Tomato, at Sing-Sing. She sets down no roots. Her cat has no name. She’s been in her apartment for over a year and still hasn’t unpacked. She’s a girl in search of something, and she has no idea what. She tells Paul that when she’s feeling scared and sad, “the only thing that does any good is to jump in a cab and go to Tiffany’s. Calms me down right away. The quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there.”
Shortly after their first meeting, an inebriated date tries to pursue Holly. She eludes him by way of the fire escape into Paul’s apartment. This scene is beautifully written and beautifully played. Holly and Paul do not get intimate; rather, they look for comfort and understanding from each other. They get their little digs in, as Holly points out for a writer, he hasn’t done much “lately”. She tries to push his buttons and finally succeeds. Threatened with being returned to her drunken, violent date below, Holly apologizes and nicknames him “Fred”, after her brother. He listens intently as she tells him about Fred. Suddenly tired, she climbs into bed. Paul, enticed, sits awake, holding her and trying to figure her out. Once asleep, her brave façade dissolves into nightmares. Paul’s tender concern for her alarms her more than the drunk, and she quickly returns to her apartment. She refuses to give up anything of herself and Paul is left alone, puzzled.
A self-proclaimed free spirit, Holly smokes and drinks too much. Another of my favorite scenes follows one such binge. After a few rounds, she announces to Paul she’s going to set her sights on Rusty Drawler, the 9th richest man in America. Holly senses Paul’s disapproval as he states the obvious, “Holly, you’re drunk.” She ignores him, explaining that to take care of homeward bound Fred, she must marry into money. Noting her empty bottle, she asks Paul to get whiskey from his apartment but he refuses. She staggers to her wallet and hands him money for it, stating he should be used to taking money from women. What started out as two friends enjoying each other’s company has turned into one’s drunken attack against the other. Both characters have trusted each other when they didn’t think trust was possible. Paul is already in love with Holly, but she refuses to accept it. It’s safer for her to insult and alienate him. This is no casual scene, as the actors give a remarkably exuberant performance, full of nuance and indirect communication through body language and tone.
The movie sees them both through failures and successes. Holly unwittingly gives Paul the confidence to start writing again and cast aside his lover in hopes of something more substantial. Holly keeps him as a trusted friend. With Paul to always catch her, she’s free to continue with her failed relationships. He is safe for her; for he, too, is a failure of sorts. But Paul’s love for Holly grows, and soon he’s frustrated with being cast aside. He spends a good portion of the movie pretending to be in love with the woman he has, while longing for love from the woman he doesn’t.
The rest of the movie finds them in several more conflicts with the world, and each other. It’s a superbly told story of two lost souls fighting and surviving the best they can, and finally realizing they are better than what’s expected of them. Love, and life, are never easy. Sometimes you have to walk away from what you think you want in order to find what you truly need. Sometimes to you have to strive for it. Sometimes it’s been there all along, hiding under your façade.