Monday, April 27, 2009

Review: Breakfast at Tiffany's

Breakfast at Tiffany's
Released: October 5, 1961
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥
[official website] [wiki] [imdb]

There’s a scene towards the end of Breakfast at Tiffany’s that almost made me dismiss the whole thing as a waste of time and money. I was thiiiiiis close to ripping the damn disc out of the player when I decided to endure the last five minutes. It’s raining (as most dramatic Hollywood scenes of this era are wont to do). Holly and Paul aka Fred are inside a cab and are debating whether or not she should go to Brazil- this despite the fact that Paul has moved mountains to be with this crazy woman. He has placed his entire life on hold to protect and care for a woman who does not even call him by his real name and who, let’s be honest, was very unladylike throughout the movie. He tells her he loves her, proposes marriage and delivers a heart-wrenching speech. She just sits there, indifferent, smoking a cigarette. I could say I’m pretty jaded but I still felt a little hurt for the guy. I wanted to hit her in the head with that damn cigarette holder but then she wises up, chases after him in the rain, and they lived happily ever after. As the end credits rolled, I sighed a breath of relief and finally understood why this movie has been a fan-favorite for all these years.

There are only four reasons why a person would not know even a little about Breakfast at Tiffany’s:
  1. You’ve lived under a rock for the past fifty years or so.
  2. You detest everything about American culture, including cinema, music and literature.
  3. Your parents are wildly religious and are against movies that show any of the following: drinking, kissing, stealing and smoking.
  4. You consider Krystala to be your entertainment benchmark.
If you agree with any of the statements above, I suggest you do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this movie now. It’s a film full of iconic images that have come to shape the idea that most people have of love and of New York City. Everyone from Gossip Girl to Dmitri from Paris has paid some sort of homage to the film. I remember my mom used to sing the movie's Academy Award winning theme Moon River to me as a lullaby and that I wept openly when my sister sang it when my mom started working in the States. This movie has been embedded into my system despite the fact that I was 22 when I first saw it.

Audrey Hepburn plays Holly Golightly, a New York socialite who’s always made up regardless of the hour, has a thing for Tiffany’s and is hell-bent on marrying a millionaire. She meets Paul Varjak played by George Peppard, a struggling writer who hasn’t written anything in ages but still manages to live in a posh New York apartment. After a few minutes, it settles in. Holly is a modern-day geisha while Paul is a kept man. It has been said that because of ancient censorship, the producers had to downplay this a little. They go through all sorts of crap together, including a very public incarceration and a brief bout with shoplifting. Until the very end of the film, I still wasn't sure if they should be together or not and it's that kind of stress and confusion that makes this film really good.

Paul Varjak was the perfect leading man. He saw past the fact that Holly was either drunk or hung over and saw a woman worthy to be loved. He’s got that ancient machismo thing that films these days no longer have. Most romantic films these days show sensitive, artsy-fartsy types who would write you a poem or dedicate a sonata for you and it was refreshing to see one of the oldest and best known examples of the macho male archetype on film at work.

One thing that bears mentioning was how they got Mickey Rooney, a white man, to play the stereotypical annoying Asian neighbor with matching yellow make-up, prosthetic teeth and fake glasses. I thought the humor was very slapstick-y and the character, aside from being a long and elaborate racist joke, was quite unnecessary. The aging actor in a 2008 interview said that he was really heartbroken about all the criticism he got. Perhaps the film's producers wanted to gain a few laughs but in fact many Asians to this day still have not made peace with this movie. (But then again that’s just one little thing to look past and if I were to be honest, I'm not really that offended and so let’s continue.)

It’s funny how prior to seeing this film, I thought of Audrey Hepburn as this really posh woman. In the film’s opening and arguably most famous scene, she is seen walking in a black Givenchy dress, all made-up and stuff, eating a croissant in front of Tiffany’s. She was glamorous all up to this point. For the most parts of the remaining 110 minutes of the film, you get to see Ms. Hepburn's messier side. She’s a little tactless and annoying and drunk but then she turns around, kisses your boo boo and makes everything go away. There was a moment in the movie where I just wanted to shake her and scream schizo! but after some time, I realized that most female heroines have to be a little flawed to be really loved. Despite being rude and drunk all the time, you get the feeling that you want to save her and that brief glimmer of vulnerability makes Hepburn’s performance in this film so remarkable.

It’s a movie that all cinema lovers should see. I guess films back then were really different. There’s a sort of romanticism in the covert, a form of sexiness in the clothed. Back then, rain actually meant something and you could tell that people meant it when they said I love you. Three hours ago, I never understood what the fuss about this movie was all about. Now that I’ve seen it, allow me to borrow some words from Paul Varjak. These words were also heavily sampled in the Dmitri From Paris song, Une Very Stylish Fille. It’s from the scene where Holly and Paul first meet. Holly asks “How do I look?” and along with Paul, all I can say is “Very good. I must say I’m amazed.”