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BQB’s Classic Movie Reviews – Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

Moon river, 3.5 readers.

BQB here with a review of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

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At some point in life, you’re going to have to make a choice, 3.5 readers.  You’ll have to choose when it’s time to abandon a pie in the sky dream that isn’t panning out.  The good news is that in doing so, you might get something that’s a lot better than the nothing you’ve grown accustomed to.  The downside is you’ll probably always get down on yourself to some extent, wondering if you’d just put in a little more time in pursuit of that goal, would it have been achieved?

That’s what I got out of this film, anyway.  And frankly, it’s a movie that I’ve wanted to see for a long time but never got around to it until recently.

The fabulous Audrey Hepburn is Holly Golightly, a wannabe socialite and a poser’s pose, having dived so deep down the world of feigned Manhattan trendiness that it’s hard to know where the real her ends and where the fake her begins.  Complicating matters worse is the notion that she has chosen to live as socialite, even though technically speaking, she isn’t one.  But then again, shouldn’t we all get to be who we feel we are on the inside?  What a woke question for a movie that was made in 1961.

Every night, Holly, clad in her little black dress (an icon popularized by this film for, if you are a lady with a little black dress, then you have something to wear to any occasion), spends her nights living it up among New York City’s wealthy and well-to-do, hoping that in doing so, she’ll land a rich husband who will be able to finance her exorbitant appetite for the finer things in life.

Alas, these fishing expeditions typically yield little fruit, so when morning rolls around, Holly takes a cab home to her apartment.  On the way, she stops at Tiffany’s, the famous jewelry store, where she eats her breakfast (a honey bun I assume) and stares at the fancy necklace on display, yearning for the day when that hoped for rich husband will buy her one.

One one fateful day, Holly befriends Paul Varjak (George Peppard), a struggling writer who has just moved into Holly’s building.  At first, Varjak comes across as an accomplished man.  After all, he appears to be renting the apartment on his own and even introduces an older woman, Emily Eustace Failenson (Patricia Neal) as a personal decorator he has hired to give his new digs a special touch.

(SPOILER AHOY!)  – Long story short, Varjak disapproves of Holly’s lifestyle.  She is unemployed, has no skills, and sustains herself by a) asking lecherous men at these parties for fifty dollars for “the powder room” (one assumes at that time going to the can was an expensive place, maybe they sold perfumes or something) only to spurn their advances and run off with the loot, much to the chagrin of the perverts who thought that they were buying something “extra” with that money and b) delivering coded messages in the form of a “weather report” between a mobster posing as a lawyer and a mob boss imprisoned at Sing Sing.  Whether she understands what these messages mean or if she understands the gravity of delivering is up for debate.

Ironically, as the film progresses, we learn that Holly is a teetotaler compared to the skeleton in Varjak’s closet.  SPOILER – Emily isn’t his decorator at all, but rather, an older rich, married woman, who pays to keep Varjak as her boy toy.  Yup.  She pays for the apartment, furniture, clothes, all of Paul’s needs and Paul gives her the old Stiffy McGee.

I’ll tell you.  In my youth, I might have considered such an arrangement, but even rich old biddies didn’t want me.

As Holly and Varjak begin to fall for each other, they’ll have to wade through their own personal worlds of bullshit and pluck out what is real and what isn’t.  Even scarier is the fact that they’ll also have to figure out what parts of their dreams are worth saving and which should be abandoned in exchange for, well, settling for each other.

You see, Holly has built it up in her mind that becoming a rich man’s wife is the end all, be all.  It’s a good idea in theory.  In practice, as she learns literally daily (or nightly) any man who would be willing to marry a woman who just wants his money is a) an asshole and b) going to treat that woman like a hooker.  No love involved.  Here’s your money.  Give up the goodies.

Meanwhile, Varjak is a struggling writer.  He published a book of short stories years earlier, and now he claims he’s waiting for the day when inspiration hits and he writes his magnum opus – the book that will blow all other books away and make him famous.  Emily has built it up in his mind that he should not be supporting himself with lesser writing jobs.  Sure, Paul could support himself with shorter submissions to magazines and newspapers (apparently writers could live off that back in the day) but rather, he should be resting and waiting for that great book to come and don’t worry, she’s not her She-John but instead, is a patron of the arts, doing her part to support good writing.

Ultimately, both will have decisions to make.  Their false realities vs. their real love for one another.  Holly can wait on that unicorn of a rich man who would actually be nice to a gold digger, or she can be with the very real Paul.  Paul can keep being Emily’s plaything, taking her money and waiting for that big book to pop into his mind, or he can support himself through daily paid writing work.  He may never become a household name that way, but he’ll have dignity and be able to be with Holly.

Decisions, decisions.  At times, this movie is funny as it lampoons phonies, hippies (the old version of hipsters) and social climbers.  It’s also gut wrenchingly sad because it is the best illustration of the dilemma of life – i.e. life is full of possibilities but short on time, and we must often choose between what we hope for and what we can actually achieve.  Dreams vs. reality.  A bird in the hand vs. two in the bush.

You’ll have to make that choice one day as well, 3.5 readers, if you haven’t already.  Marry the person loyal to you or hold out for the unlikely  supermodel knockout.  Stay where you are or move to a big city.  Take the menial job or hold out for something better.  How much will we lose if we quit on our dreams vs. how much will we gain if we choose what is in front of us over what we wish will be in front of us one day?

Sadly, the movie is dragged down by Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi, a Japanese pervert (not implying that all Japanese men are perverts but this one happens to be) and professional photographer whose frequent complaints about Holly’s noisy parties are all quenched by false promises from Holly that maybe one day she’ll pose for his camera.  The whole goofy Asian get up is offensive by today’s standards and shows how far we’ve come.

Other than that very lamentable blemish, the film is solid and as far as I know, may very well be the world’s first Rom com, or at least, the first memorable one.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.  Also, all this time I thought the movie was called this because you could go to Tiffany’s and be served eggs and pancakes while you look at diamonds.  I didn’t realize it was talking about a woman eating breakfast while hoping diamonds will be bought for her.  You learn something new every day.

P.S. – I was a boy in the 1980s and my first intro to George Peppard was as the white haired, grizzly old, cigar chomping Colonel Hannibal Smith, leader of the A-Team.  Quite a different role than Varjak.  As a pop culture lover, I enjoyed both roles and I’d argue that if anything, this shows Peppard’s range.  He played the ultimate tough guy and also, the ultimate romantic guy.  Even Schwarzenegger never pulled that off.  George deserved more recognition for this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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