1 Hr., 55 Mins.
Holly Golightly is the kind of film character you fall in love with almost immediately. We first meet her in the wee hours of the morning strolling alongside the windows of Tiffany and Co., eating a pastry and dressed in elegant party wear and gaudy diamonds to match from the night before. She isn’t putting on an act, going through the motions of a stylish title sequence for sake of looking good. Holly Golightly is an eccentric party girl who really and truly does get a kick from imitating fashion models and living vicariously through the glamorous world of Tiffany’s.
Later, we experience what she’s like as a person, which is Manic Pixie Dream Girl crossed with wannabe socialite crossed with, inevitably, a vulnerable thirty-something who still hasn’t figured her life out. She’s a woman, a myth, and a legend, and that fact is apparent within a second of us gazing upon her slender body, not necessarily a result of a steady brewing of decades-long adulation (though I can’t ignore the number of times I’ve seen her alluring mug plastered on sham chic retail merch).
The role is undoubtedly the most immediately recognizable of Audrey Hepburn’s prestigious career. By 1961, she had already been nominated for three Oscars (winning in 1953 for her breakthrough, Roman Holiday), and was just as famous an actress as she was an aficionado of style and celebrity — to do wrong was an impossibility, and if an obstacle ever hit her, a rise back up to the top would be swift and graceful. As Golightly, she is a fetching wonder, giving one of my personal favorite performances by an actress. It’s a surprise that she found the role challenging, Golightly an extrovert and she an introvert — Hepburn makes the woman’s messy winsomeness as sure-handed as breathing, an extension of her considerable charm.
And so Breakfast at Tiffany’s is an arresting star vehicle, mostly a romantic comedy but otherwise a character study with as many slyly humorous moments as poignant ones. Adapted from the Truman Capote novella of the same name (unread by me) and directed by a top-of-his-game Blake Edwards (The Pink Panther, 10), it is intelligent but soundly lovable entertainment featuring one of the best written couples of the genre, both of whom are so pragmatically vulnerable that we can’t help but cheer at the unavoidable happy ending, which the film rightfully earns.
We’ve lived through stories like it many times before, but few are as touchingly drawn. In Breakfast at Tiffany’s, we witness the long to blossom romance between the central Holly and Paul (George Peppard), lost souls whose idiosyncrasies just might fill the pockets of emptiness in the other. Holly is a call girl (though never explicitly stated) who likes to dress in expensive clothes and throw legendary parties in her tiny apartment; she tells herself that she’s a free spirit who will finally be settled once she gold digs her way to the top of the social ladder, but underlying is a vastly susceptible woman scared of where her future might take her. George is an aspiring novelist (a single work has been published) who works as a gigolo (also never explicitly stated) for the domineering Emily “2E” Failenson (Patricia Neal), who watches over him like a hawk.
They meet by chance. Paul moves into Holly’s apartment building and rings her doorbell after having a heck of a time getting into the building. Then and there, an instant connection is formed. As most who know her adore her, we get the feeling that no one is actually aware of her existential fears, which Paul senses almost immediately. Paul, self-assured and blessed with high school football star looks, maybe even thinks of himself as being level-headed, despite his less-than-moral part-time job — Holly can see through his seemingly sturdy exterior, too.
But what's refreshing about Breakfast at Tiffany’s is the way that it spends most of its time depicting Paul and Holly’s kinship as mere friendship. Only toward its conclusion does it inspire proclamations of love. We grow to guilelessly care about these characters as it wears on, George Axelrod’s brilliant screenplay as brimming with quirky humor as it is telling characterizations.
It initially wears the mask of a silky comedy, only to slowly reveal itself to additionally be a perceptive romantic drama that waits for its main duo to remove their masquerades and effectively love one another. And, being so nimbly witty and polished, it is an old-fashioned, cinematic courtship that feels as if it were conceptualized somewhat recently.
It all looks beautiful, Franz Planer’s cinematography picturesque in a Photoplay sort of way and eye-catching in its color, the costumery and set design magnificently sumptuous. Henry Mancini’s soundtrack is especially a highlight, Hepburn’s widely revered rendition of “Moon River” a loving illumination.
But we are mesmerized by Hepburn and the consistently overlooked Peppard, who delivers just as wonderful a performance as his leading lady, just contrasting in outright effect. Hepburn’s Holly is the rare kissable eccentric that isn’t comprised solely of adorability — doubt is a fairly consistent manifestation of her psyche too, and Hepburn captures her tormented but exquisitely exuberant personality with gusto we want to embrace.
Peppard, with his blue eyes and blond hair, has the look of a clean-cut teen idol all grown up, but his characterization is astonishingly much more than that. His performance, soul-baring and unsettled in a subtle manner that makes those qualities hard to recognize, is sublime in how much it makes an impression on us. See a man of his visage walk down the street and you might assume that he has it all. But his Paul, called Fred by Holly (he reminds her of her cherished brother), essentially has nothing and wants little more than to love this girl and for her to love him back. His devotion feels real, and we almost crack in response to its dedication.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s has dated in many respects: Mickey Rooney’s uncomfortable yellow-face performance as Holly’s landlord, Mr. Yunioshi, is a ferocious misstep, and the side-plot involving her backstory as a Southern child bride is mostly unnecessary. But to withstand its charms, not to mention wither in response to the way its romance is as cinematic as cinematic romance can get, is not an option, and we find ourselves succumbing to what it has to offer in ways rarely seen. They don’t make them like this anymore, no, and stars with as much personality as Hepburn, as much humility as Peppard, are a rarity. A