Andrew W.’s review published on Letterboxd:
Breakfast at Tiffany’s is very much the embodiment of a cinema classic, replete with an iconic starlet, memorable score and ubiquitous locale, and yet popping open the hood and looking at all the working and moving parts in here we see that what powers this film is simplistic and universal in nature, so even though our personal situations may not align with the characters dazzling our eyes up on the screen, their situations can be, and usually are, relatable to the everyday us.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s follows Holly Golightly, a very much happy-go-lucky, bubbly sprite of a woman who works as a high-class escort in New York City. Constantly on the lookout for some rich male to be her ticket out of her current lifestyle, she is always friendly and yet never truly friends with anybody until Paul Varjak, author and “toy” for an elder socialite, moves into the same apartment building. Despite cultivating a friendship based on similar circumstances that soon displays the potential to be something more, can both Paul and Holly break free from their personal inhibitions and navigate the torrents of life and love in New York?
By the by, Holly’s pet cat is the best cat and deserves all the scritchy-scratches and boops in the world. Just saying...
This film was something of a cinematic casualty of mine, as I remember first watching it when I was around 13-14 and not understanding a single thing. Being so young, my tastes and predilections skewed very much towards the simpler things in life: gunfights, explosions and car chases et al.; why would I find enjoyment in a film about emotions and feelings? Fast forward to today, and I’d like to think I’m better balanced and more receptive, more appreciative towards these types of films; indeed, sometimes I find greater enjoyment in these films than I do action/adventure films. What interested me after I finished watching this though was the bittersweet feeling I had in my chest; the good feeling was that this viewing turned out better than I could’ve anticipated, definitely recoloring my memories I had from the film so many years ago, minus its obvious flaw. What hurt somewhat is that I personally know/have friends and acquaintances who are very much the Holly Golightly’s of their own lives, moving from, and desperate to live in, one moment to the next, content with mistaking superficialities as balms and knowing their faults and shortcomings but yet self-sabotaging their personal escape routes; in certain ways, it’s a sad feeling to have as one identifies and relates with the character of Paul, someone who becomes full of legitimate care and concern for someone else and who wants to help but is constantly kept at arms length because acknowledgment of him is confronting the truth of their personal situations. Fuck that. Pour out another and let’s keep the party going.
... Moving on, I took delight in many of the intangibles this film offered; the acting conversation begins and ends though at Audrey Hepburn and her portrayal of Holly Golightly. Sure, you may have had other notable stars and starlets such as George Peppard, Patricia Neal, Mickey Rooney, Buddy Ebsen and Martin Balsam acting in here, but their performances almost feel secondary, merely propelling the story from A to B, while Hepburn’s performance is positively transfixing, almost to the point of bewitchment. Able to glide between a spunky, optimistic sense of joie de vivre one moment and the next pulling that joy back to give us a peek at the insecure, pained and frightened self hiding underneath, Hepburn’s performance is rightly considered to be iconic. Iconic for all the wrong reasons though, is Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of Golightly‘s pained Japanese landlord, Mr. Yunioshi. Wow. Not gonna lie, I did ruefully chuckle a little as I was reacquainted with such an absurd, tone deaf portrayal, but the moment passed as quickly as it came and I’d like to stress that such a portrayal is insulting, comedic intents be damned. Was the character of Mr. Yunioshi in the novella the film is based off of? Yes, he is; did they need to cast a white actor to portray negative, racist stereotypes under the guise of light comedy? Hell no they didn’t. As was pointed out here though (~14:10 and onwards), at the time this was made this type of offensive humor was much more widely accepted as normal behavior and thusly didn’t feel terribly out of place; credit due to America’s longstanding love affair with xenophobic, imperialist sentimentalities throughout its history for fueling hurtful and harmful portrayals such as this, but moving forward let’s remember to use portrayals such as these as talking points and teaching moments to fuel and further cultural empathy and understanding. Outrage is only effective in the moment; education can last a lifetime.
Everyone else acquits themselves well. George Peppard is solid, albeit slightly unmemorable as Paul Varjak, embodying a sense of ennui being awoken to altruism, Patricia Neal is sultry in her role of cynical socialite Emily Eunice Failenson, or “2E” to Varjak (good gravy her voice is sensuous!), Martin Balsam shines in the roughly 5 minutes of screen time he has, and Buddy Ebsen’s understated, emotional feature felt like a breath of fresh air, as before this my only exposure of him came from Disney’s Davy Crockett films, The Beverly Hillbillies and spot duty in a Shirley Temple film. The direction from Blake Edwards is well done, restraining the flow of the film so that nothing feels overboard in its presentation while simultaneously giving the characters enough room to breathe and grow naturally; the more comedic moments opt for subtlety instead of brashness (the more obvious example excluded), which help those bits of comedy feel more natural and smooth, which is a nice touch, and the screenplay from George Axelrod is well toned and well writ, with believable characters and situations populating the City That Never Sleeps. The cinematography from Franz Planer is well done, never lingering longer than it has to in any scene and constructed immaculately; honestly, that opening shot of Holly stepping out of the cab in front of Tiffany’s gave me goosebumps, it was that good. Also, that ending overhead shot of Holly’s distress over news of her brother is heartbreaking, capturing Holly not as a socialite but as a sister, lonely, devastated and all too human. It’s a powerful shot conveying powerful emotion. Last but certainly not least... do I need to say anything about the score? Henry Mancini’s inimitable musical style fits the film like a glove, bringing life and vibrancy to this fictitious jet set and yet provides enough emotional heft to help sell the smaller, quieter moments when needed. Sure, Mancini’s work in other films may garner more popular notice, such as Hatari!, Charade and The Pink Panther et al., but his work here shouldn’t be overlooked or diminished.
I’ve always wanted to come back and re-watch this film, time softening my cinematic stances and predilections. I’m glad I did, as my re-discovery of this has allowed me to enjoy it far better than I thought initially. Despite being of its time, it still holds up remarkably well, supple and resilient, ready to engage new generations of viewers and beguile them with its unique style and wit. Because of its emotion and appeal, I can’t recommend this enough.