Film Flick: Breakfast at Tiffany's

Friday, October 19, 2012


Audrey Hepburn, a vision in a slinky black ball gown and carrying an elegant cigarette holder, is perhaps one of the most iconic parts of film history. No doubt about it, the movie with this vision in black, Breakfast At Tiffany's, has definitely made its mark in popular culture.

When a writer whose a kept man moves into a new apartment, he quickly forms an odd sort of friendship with the girl downstairs. She's a call-girl with a quirky side, who goes by Holly Golightly. As she pulls him into her world of "rats and super-rats," with the go-and-glitz glamour of high-rolling society, viewers meet a variety of strange characters- the Asian landlord, the Brazilian gentleman, the rich but ugly millionaire, a Kingpin stuck in Sing-Sing, and a string of gentlemen callers just to start. Add in her bizarre personal life, plus her urge to find somewhere to belong, and it is hardly any surprise to find our hero is falling for this "wild thing."

Most of the story centers on Golightly's complex personality and personal life, as well as the impression she makes on others. Paul the writer's growth also plays a big part, though his is arguably secondary next to the heroine's. Beside the iconic, glamourous images of Hepburn, the biggest saving grace for Breakfast is that it does present all people's lives as complex and quirky. No one is really immune to this in either the film or real life.

I would also add the party scene is a fine example of comedy.

However- Prepare for an unpopular opinion- I personally felt that the film's good qualities rather ended there. The film has a different sort of main character than most, and this is both its best and worst quality. While the idea of Golightly is an interesting one, it is quite obviously a part with which Hepburn was not well matched. She herself called it "challenging" for an introvert such as herself to play such an extroverted part, and she felt she had been miscast. Marylin Monroe, who was the novella author's original choice to play the main part, would have been much better suited to play that particular brand of charming-but-messed-up. However, we will never know for sure, since Monroe's acting coach felt the part would not be good for the sex symbol's attempt at an image change. Instead, we see Hepburn, who casts off an air of quiet and innocence, struggle to play someone who is decidedly neither of these things. Hepburn is, as usual, gorgeously attired and she does give a nice vocal performance of the theme song "Moon River." However, she would have done much better to stick to delightful ingenue roles on film.

Another common complaint against this film, and one I feel the need to echo, is that it displays deeply insulting racial stereotypes. The Japanese landlord, who mainly provides comic relief, is played by caucasian Mickey Rooney in "Yellowface" make-up. Bucked toothed, with a bad accent and be-speckled, he is painful to see on screen because it seems so politically incorrect. Likewise, the character, when not yelling at Golightly, is always seen doing stereotypical "Asian" things, once again reinforcing unrealistic images. In later years, the director, unsurprisingly considering the criticism leveled against this aspect, said he would cast the role differently today. Rooney himself has stated he finds the criticism hurtful, especially as he had never received negative comments about his performance. In all fairness to the actor, I suppose it must be said that there is-technically- nothing wrong in his performance. He delivered what he was asked to, and his comedic timing is good to boot! It is the movie's misfortune though, that what Rooney was asked to deliver was so racially stereotypical and degrading. But it is, I suppose, a sign of the times it was filmed in.

(On an interesting side note, Rooney himself is indirectly referenced in the movie. "E-2," Paul's mistress, teases that " Love Finds Andy Hardy" when Paul reveals he has fallen for another woman. Andy Hardy was the main character of several movies from the 1940's, who Mickey Rooney famously portrayed, including in the film Love Finds Andy Hardy.)

The biggest failing of the film though, was not in its weakly played main character, nor even in it's dated and distasteful stereotypes. Its biggest was in that Breakfast at Tiffany's could not find an identity as a film. Was it a romance? A drama? A character study? Of course, some films become great precisely because they transcend genre categorization, and certainly other films have managed to be both a drama and romance, a romance and a character study etc. However, this film oscillated uncomfortably between trying to take a serious look at human lives and loves, to being a campy comedy to being a critic on crime to being one on love. The film searched for a purpose and that lack of vision showed, making this film a let down for me.

13 comments

  1. I love this!

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  2. I agree with your review. It's a good movie, but there are a lot of issues that keep it from being a favorite film.

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  3. I feel like I'm the only fashion blogger in the world who hasn't seen Breakfast at Tiffanys. I think I need to. :)

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  4. Can you believe that I just saw this movie a couple months ago? And I loved it so much I watched it almost every day for a week because I wanted to remember it all. I wish I had seen it before.

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  5. i've always loved this movie because it's absurd, doesn't really fit, and wildly old fashioned. things change - song of the south is banned because of racial stereotyping (though let's be clear this movie is worst in it, we actually have a japanese laser disk of song of the south)

    <3 katherine
    of corgis and cocktails // current giveaway

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    1. It is strange that I've liked some films (most notably The Ghost and Mrs. Muir) because they can't be squarely categorized, but with this...well, each to their own, I guess. Not sure why it bothers me here.

      Also agreed that times change and we have to take into consideration the time period it was made it. As I said, the performance Rooney gives has great comic timing, but things were starting to change when the film was being made. Really curious now though- What is Song of the South about?

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  6. I've seen Breakfast at Tiffany's so many times it's probably ridiculous - I used to watch it with my grandparents when I was a little kid on Saturday afternoons. I've always been a fan of how offbeat and strange this film is and I agree 100% that the party scene is one of the best in the movie. I could definitely see how Marilyn would have been more suited for this role, but it's pretty hard for me not to just love Audrey despite how awkward she was playing this part (I think this is actually what drew me to the film to begin with). Mickey Rooney's role always disturbed me though. If it weren't for that this movie might actually be in my favorites. xo Marisa

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    1. I love that you'd watching with your grandparents when you were young. What a great memory.

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  8. Wow, I learned so many things that I didn't know about this film! You write great reviews. I also felt the same way when I watched this film. There is so much hype about it that I expected it to be wonderful but it certainly did not turn out to be one of my favorite films. It was too all over the place, as you stated. Thanks for the facts! :)

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    1. The hype was part of my problem too; waaaay high expectations that were probably unfair. Glad you liked all the trivia!

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  9. You know, as much as this movie will always hold a special place in my part, I have to agree. It really does struggle to find an identity and that hurts it greatly (well, that and the racism of course). I also hate how much girls idolize Audrey because of this movie without seeing any other of her other movies, which are MUCH better (Sabrina is my favorite).

    Oh, don't forget to send me your button whenever you get the chance! And I'm sorry it took so long, but I FINALLY sent you back your jacket along with my shirt :)

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    1. People who don't see her in more of her films really do miss out. Sabrina is fun, as is Roman Holiday. I've a soft spot for the arguably less-well-done, but very funny film How to Steal a Million that she stars in with Peter O'Toole as well!

      PS Finally sent you the button!

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