Friday, October 19, 2012
Film Flick: Breakfast at Tiffany's
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.