In my mind, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is one of those iconic films that everyone knows about and most people have seen, one that is raved about by all who watch it and will be around for decades to come. I’ve known of the existence of this film for a while, but only recently sat down and watched it. And actually, after all the build-up, I was somewhat disappointed.
It may have something to do with the fact that I had no idea what to expect when I started watching, having seen only the stylish movie posters of Audrey Hepburn and having no knowledge of the plot, but Breakfast at Tiffany’s was completely different to what I thought it would be. The story is of a struggling writer, Paul Varjak (George Peppard), who has recently moved into a New York apartment paid for by a wealthy woman who keeps him out of debt. Over the course of the movie, he falls in love with his neighbour Holly (Audrey Hepburn), the party-loving star of the film. However, I wouldn’t call this a classic love story as nothing is as it seems.
“I never completely liked Holly, and felt she occasionally acted certain ways just for the sake of it, rather than having any real emotional motive”
Whilst to the outside world Paul tries to seem successful, he has only had one book published, and he has not written – let alone sold – anything recently. Holly, on the other hand, is even more illusory. She puts on a persona, hosts outrageous parties, and seems shallow or lacking substance, but at many moments it is clear that is not who she really is. There are instances where her character, history, marital status and even her name are questioned, and the audience (and Paul) are never sure when she is telling the truth.
The film’s title links to this theme of false image. The opening sequence consists of Holly standing outside the window of Tiffany’s, eating her breakfast out of a paper bag, a contrast between wealth and the everyday that continues throughout. She admits she is “crazy about Tiffany’s” because she believes nothing bad can ever happen there – Holly believes in the perfect world of wealth it assumes, and wants to be a part of it. This juxtaposes her real background, a divorcee from the country with very little money or way of sustaining her lifestyle, and potentially no future. Holly’s need to be accepted into an imagined reality where nothing could go wrong results in her attempting to seduce and marry several rich men.
Holly’s attitude towards Paul is also apparently indifferent. She cares about him, and grows to love him, but treats him as if she doesn’t. She nicknames him ‘Fred’, after her brother, and seems to use Paul as a substitute for him, rather than his own person. Whether her actions imply that she is used to being treated badly, that she has commitment issues, or is simply uncertain or scared of her feelings, her refusal to even acknowledge Paul makes it difficult to relate to her. I never completely liked Holly, and felt she occasionally acted certain ways just for the sake of it, rather than having any real emotional motive.
Although the story is interesting and unusual, it is very focused on the superficial, and this means it is often confusing, not least because the audience does not know what to believe. I came in expecting the traditional love story, set in New York with a background of riches, but instead was presented with characters that were unable to reach this ‘ideal’ they aspired to. I will say the acting was very well executed, in particular by Audrey Hepburn, and there were some brilliant scenes, such as exchange with the Tiffany’s salesman, and Holly’s rendition of ‘Moon River’, but these were few and far between. Aside from the less politically correct points of the film, such as the racist portrayal of the comedy character Mr Yunioshi (Mickey Rooney), it was well made, creating a less ‘perfect’ world than many American romance films, and perhaps this quirkiness is why it is so well-loved.
Personally, I did enjoy it, but it was completely different from what I expected, and I would not rate it nearly as highly as many viewers.