Breakfast at Tiffany’s Review
I present yet another review from @kubrickking! This time, she is reviewing Audrey Hepburn’s numerous films and comparing them to - you guessed it - Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
I’ve watched 4 Audrey Hepburn films essentially all my life: Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Funny Face. I’ve since made my way through almost her entire filmography, but these were the four films my mother showed me at a young age and I would play continuously on the car ride home from school. Finish Roman Holiday on the way home Thursday afternoon, start it over again when we set off for school on Friday morning. I was still in elementary school when my mom bought me a nicely packaged DVD set of these four Audrey classics and they sit on my bookshelf to this day.
Although she has received accolades for almost all her work, Audrey became particularly known for her Oscar win on Roman Holiday and complex performance in Breakfast at Tiffany’s among several other films -
My Fair Lady, Two for the Road, Wait Until Dark
etc. - which I did not see until later on. Despite knowing all this now and having seen more of her work, one of her films that left a lasting impression in my childhood will always be
. A romance story, like all her Hollywood hits, the allure was hardly Humphrey Bogart. In fact, I do remember noticing the age discrepancy between them even as a child, probably stemming from an inevitable parallel of Linus with every boring, fun sucking adult I knew.
Still, something about the coming of age story and Audrey’s particular elegance in that film cemented it as my favorite. In retrospect, the costuming is most responsible for my attraction to the picture. Here, Hubert de Givenchy did his first and, dare I say, best work designing original pieces for his muse Audrey. The sleek suit, circular hat, and dangling earrings Sabrina wears at the train station caught not only the attention of David, but my young eye for fashion as well. She goes on to sport the most gorgeous black and white evening gown with two separate bottom skirts, a number of gorgeously tailored little black dresses, and boating shorts, a plaid top, and wedges which somehow manage to appear as practical as they are effortlessly elegant. Funny Face is similarly a showcase of glorious designer clothing, but without the ruse of being a fulfilling love story.
And, in truth, that is all the narrative of this film is: a ruse. Sabrina’s main, and only, conflict is that she is hopelessly in love with a man, David, who will always be more in love with himself and his wealth than any beautiful woman he takes advantage of. Her character arc consists solely of realizing that Linus, the older brother, rather than David offers the love and companionship she desires. That’s it. She is given no more or no less; a cardboard cutout of a woman, painted and traced by men. While Sabrina does become a successful cook and independent woman abroad in Paris, all of her characterization leads back to the simple goal of attaining David’s attention.
As a child, I never noticed an issue with this narrative. It simply adhered to the societal beliefs and treatment of women that saturates media to this day. However, especially as I learned more about Audrey Hepburn’s life outside of her films, I began to view this particular role as a sad failure in harnessing even a glimmer of the true compassion and determination of its portrayer. Interestingly, as I grew older Breakfast at Tiffany’s emerged as my new favorite from the group of four. As far as romance stories go, Tiffany’s is more a character study than anything. Audrey’s Holly Golightly is an icon of adulthood and childhood all at once. She is undeniably childish in her approach to dealing with adult problems and naive in relation to their surrounding realities. Still, this adolescence becomes a pure indicator of adulthood in and of itself; aka the reality that no one grows out of childhood flaws into an idealized adulthood. In fact, many of the professional aspects of adulthood appear drama free and efficient to a child until they grow up to work with people and on tasks that are just as resentful and senseless as the situations of their youth. Holly’s attitude, policies, and monikers all become indicative of that on a meta level.
This is where Breakfast at Tiffany’s succeeds and Sabrina fails. Holly is a complex, interesting character with more tangible and meaningful conflict and action than Sabrina. She is given subplots and background related to her brother in the Army, her unfulfilling life as a hick in the country, and her transformation into a city girl, which all ultimately reveal her to be the same self-seeking, misguided “phony” underneath. She may not be the most desirable character because of her flaws, but she is undeniably a three-dimensional, dynamic, and - despite Paul Varjack’s final monologue - an indefinable woman. Paul’s “sugar mama” is “a very stylish girl,” Paul himself is “the sensitive, bookish type,” Mag Wildwood is a “thumping bore,” Sally Tomato is “a darling old man,” but Holly cannot be reduced to the simple archetype of “wild thing” no matter how hard she tries. She is not anchored to the woes of the men in her life; in contrast, this dynamic is continually flipped on its head. Holly leaves a trail of pleading men behind her (the rats and super rats), having little interest in romance beyond the lifelong wealth it may eventually secure her. She pursues men with large fortunes and picks up extra cash as both a call-girl and delivering coded messages of a criminal nature to inmates in Sing Sing Prison. In truth, Holly doesn’t know what she wants from life, but neither do many of the women in my life. She’s a character that is allowed to be emotional, emotionless, intelligent, naive, right, wrong, promiscuous, and modest as all women are in reality.
Funny enough, both Sabrina and Holly are characters with misguided and unclear goals related to their future marriages. However, in relation to love, while Sabrina is refining her wants, Holly is denying her needs. Sabrina’s conflict then becomes a battle with the external options presented to her, while Holly’s proceeds as an intense internal battle over whether she even has options or choices at all. While Breakfast at Tiffany’s may still end on a romantic reunion, it is much less about the specific union of Paul and Holly than it is about Holly’s self-actualization and self-realization concerning her desires. The heart of her final scene lies in the rescue of Cat, a moment that forces her to accept that she does possess genuine love for and companionship with something beyond herself and for reasons other than money. This feeling only ripples onto Paul, as a result of Cat, in their final embrace.
Audrey has always brought depth and honesty to her on-screen roles in a way that
transcends even the worst written female characters. However, if you’re looking for an
arc and characterization that live up to the intelligent, compassionate, vivacious woman
behind it, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is one of the only ways to go. Holly justifiably refuses
that others put her in a cage, especially her male pursuers, as the patriarchal world and
her experiences have hardened her. In the end though, Holly learns to recognize and
allow love that makes her happy, as all women must.