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Breakfast at Tiffany's

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 02/18/07 09:56:45

"A treat, no matter what the time."
5 stars (Awesome)

A few years ago, I gave a set of cousins movie posters for Christmas presents. It'd been a while since I'd seen the film, so I was mostly choosing based upon the fantastically stylish design. Catching up with it, I wonder what my aunt and uncle thought about my pointing their sixteen-year-old daughter at a film about a gigolo falling in love with a call girl. It's a fantastic film, but, still...

The gigolo is Paul Varjak (George Peppard), a once-promising writer who moves into the apartment above Holly Goloightly (Audrey Hepburn). Holly probably enters "actress" or "model" on her tax returns (just as Paul likely enters "writer"), but supports herself one a hundred dollars a week to visit jailed mafioso Sally Tomato (Alan Reed) and pass a "weather report" on to his lawyer every Thursday, along with occasional fifties for "trips to the powder room". The two of them hit it off immediately and become fast friends, but their situations prevent them from acting on their attraction: Paul's "patron" (Patricia Neal) wants him to herself and Holly intends to land a millionaire for a husband, so that she can support her brother when he leaves the army (he's a bit slow).

Audrey Hepburn had several memorable roles in her career, though this is undoubtedly her signature part. Holly Golightly requires both cheerful pluck and fragile sadness, and part of what makes the film such a rewatchable delight is that even after the second time through, we can still take her simple, child-like enthusiasm at face value. There's a funny scene toward the end, well after we've learned that her history is darker than her flighty party-girl persona would suggest, where she lights up like a lantern upon seeing cameras, and it elicits simple, genuine laughter rather than thoughts on how being so chipper might be some sort of front. Hepburn presents Holly to us as sad, scared, and lonely, but doesn't let those traits entirely define her. She's genuinely charming and funny, and like Paul, we fall in love with her all over again every time we meet her.

Peppard often functions as Hepburn's straight man, especially toward the beginning, a few steps behind as Holly's mercurial mind jumps from one subject to another in a way he can't quite follow at first. Varjak starts out resigned to a life that falls short of his dreams, but Peppard builds the character's self-respect as the film goes on. By the end, the two have managed to adroitly change positions - where Holly is nudging Varjak to be his own man early on, it gets him to a position where he can do the same for her.

Hepburn and Peppard take up the lion's share of the film, but it's not entirely a two-person show. Neal is just oily enough to be off-putting as the woman keeping Varjak, and Martin Balsam is fast-talking as O.J. Berman, the man who discovered and moulded Holly into a sophisticate (or reasonable approximation thereof). Buddy Ebsen appears as an old acquaintance from Holly's home town, both paralleling and explaining her to a certain extent. John McGiver has a brief but charming bit, and Jose Luis de Villalonga is brings out the charm as one of Holly's suitors. And I know that I really should hate Mickey Rooney as the upstairs neighbor, Yunioshi - he's a Japanese stereotype that's near-impossible to defend - but Rooney plays the character with such amusing frustration and anger that I like it anyway. And the cat can steal scenes from any of them.

I haven't read Truman Capote's original novel, so I'm not sure how faithful George Axelrod's script is. Between them, they put a great deal of classic words into the characters' mouths, while Blake Edwards does an exceptional job of balancing the parts where one laughs out loud with the undercurrent of sadness that pervades the story. He gets help from Henry Mancini, who delivers a score that always complements the story without overwhelming it, even though many composers would be tempted to go with something less subtle.

Maybe the film isn't nearly as light and breezy as the classic poster with Audrey and her cat makes it look. But it's still charming and sweet, with just enough reality to it to keep the audience from dismissing it as mere fluff.

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