The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Breakfast at Tiffany's

I can't remember the last movie that threw me off as much as the 1961 classic Breakfast at Tiffany's. I'd never seen it before today and knew nothing about it other than the setting of 1960s New York City, the style, and of course, Audrey Hepburn.  My sister swears by this movie so really, that was my only exposure to it. So over the years, did I convince myself that the movie was something else, something vastly different?  I didn't know what to expect heading into the movie and was quickly surprised by the route this story took.  I don't even know where to start so bear with me.

My biggest preconceived notion of this movie heading into it was that it was the epitome of timeless style, the very beautiful Audrey Hepburn representing this ideal woman that all other women aspire to be. There are posters, books, puzzles, coffee cups, t-shirts, anything at all you care to name with Hepburn on it.  So why does this movie get held in such high regard?  Is it the style alone?  Because honestly, this is an incredibly depressing movie.  It's based on a novella from Truman Capote -- master of weirdness and eccentricity -- and is definitely a casualty of the decade/era it was released.  So here goes, I'll try and be fair.

Washed-up writer Paul Varjak (George Peppard) is moving into his newly furnished New York City apartment when he meets one of the other tenants in the building, Holly Golightly (Hepburn). To say the least, Paul doesn't know what to make of this young woman, a carefree individual who seems to float along wherever life will take her.  She is the oddest of oddballs and lives on a series of whims and gut feelings, not wanting to get pegged down wherever she is or whatever she is doing.  Paul is instantly intrigued (and probably a little attracted) by Holly, but he just can't figure her out.  They seem like such different people, but really, they're almost the same person and as Paul figures out, they belong together.  Can he convince Holly of that though?

Okay, for openers director Blake Edwards is handicapped by 1960s censors and limitations around his storytelling. He is limited by what he can actually do or have characters talk about so instead of actual revelations or explanations we get subtle roundabouts and hints at what is going on.  I was more than a little taken aback to find out that Hepburn's Holly is a call girl and Peppard's Paul is a gigolo.  Really?!? None of this is ever directly addressed, but it's fairly obvious to put 2 and 2 together to make four.  Weirder though, Holly is a call girl/escort who takes the money of the guy she's with and then bails on him, later calling him a 'rat' or 'super-rat.' Paul seems to have one customer -- Patricia Neal's 2-E, a middle-aged married woman -- after giving up a potentially lucrative writing career.

So the stylish duo is a call girl and a gigolo, not a movie breaker in the least, right?  Okay, it did take awhile to get used to that idea, especially in a movie released in theaters in 1961 and held in such high regard some 50 years later.  But that's the least of the problems if you ask me. At a certain point you just accept what the characters are.  It's that the movie doesn't know what it wants to say or where to go.  Are we supposed to support Holly or even like her? In reality, her character is not likable but as a wise IMDB poster explains...'She's pretty so we like her.' Is it a drama or a romantic comedy? Is it neither? Are we supposed to drift along and let the movie wash over us? I was surprised by where the movie went in the last half hour, but it was one in a long line of surprises.

Now where I can understand moviegoers falling in love with 'Tiffany's' is in the casting of Hepburn and Peppard.  Throw aside the fact that both characters are willing to sleep with you for cash.  There hasn't been a more classically beautiful actress in Hollywood before or since Audrey Hepburn.  She's that perfect blend of cuteness and being amazingly sexy. She's headstrong and funny, adorable and cute, vulnerable and exciting, all rolled into one.  The chemistry Hepburn has with Peppard is top-notch and is believable in a way that never makes you question if they're acting.  They're just good together, plain and simple.  Hepburn is the vision of beauty as Holly, a stylish icon that will not be soon forgotten in movie lore.  Yes, her character isn't always likable -- Peppard either to a lesser degree -- but credit to both actors for making Holly and Paul not despicable to the point where you hate them and the movie they're in.

Maybe this is a movie that will hit me differently after I digest it fully in a couple of days, but I doubt it.  As a whole, finished product, it is an odd movie and there's no other way to describe it.  Also in the cast is Buddy Ebsen as Doc, a man from Holly's past, Martin Balsam as O.J., her quasi-agent, and Mickey Rooney in one of the most grossly stereotypical performances I've ever seen, playing an Asian man living in Holly's building.  If it was intended as humor, it falls horrifically short. Too bad because Rooney is typically one of the most reliable character actors around.  All in all, I can't give this a positive rating, but if I was it'd be because I looked at it through romantic comedy-colored glasses.  Hepburn is perfect, Peppard is cool and NYC never looked so stylish.

Breakfast at Tiffany's <---trailer (1961): ** 1/2 /****

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