Directed by: Blake Edwards
Written by: George Axelrod
Starring: Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, Patricia Neal, Buddy Ebsen, Martin Balsam
Iconography in movies results in lasting legacies, which may even supersede the stories they picture. No film, in my estimations, has benefitted from this more than the charming Breakfast at Tiffany’s. One picture says it all as we follow a character, whose motivations and decisions change as the wind blows.
Living as a New York socialite, we have Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn), who goes about her day evading the wishes of men and living a life of glamour. She then meets Paul (George Peppard) and they strike a romance as he attempts to become a successful writer while supporting himself by being a male escort to a specific customer.
Walk into any college residence hall room and you’ll eventually see a poster of Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly peering into Tiffany & Co. with her iconic dress and sunglasses hanging on a wall. It’s almost the equivalent of seeing a Pulp Fiction poster, but I can surmise the Audrey poster draws more inspiration to hang due to its fashion aesthetics more than the film itself. The shot of Holly peering into the store may be one of the most iconic in all of cinema and thematically, it shows who this character is literally at the beginning of the film and how she adapts to the new lesson on life.
The story shows us an aloof socialite in Holly, where she just glides through life hustling in order to live the lifestyle she seeks in her own way. She pays visits to a mob boss for $100 a week and would love to marry for the money in order to be taken care of for good. On the other hand, you have Paul, who dreams of publishing his written work, and to make some cash he sleeps with an older woman, as she pays for his services. Two young and beautiful people yearning for a better life and willing to do whatever it takes to achieve it. Overall, the film is classified as a romantic comedy with their meeting of happenstance and the journey they undertake together of falling in love and learning to leave their previous lives behind. It makes the story incredibly charming, especially with the two leads we’re rooting to come together.
Audrey Hepburn remains one of the most recognizable stars in all of Hollywood because of her role in films like this one. She possessed that classic Hollywood style and persona people think about when they see her. Hepburn has become the embodiment of it all and she’s incredibly charming in this role. As a character stuck in the crossroads of life, from her husband wanting her to come back and the different men circumnavigating around her. Her only interest lies in being safe in a financial sense. George Peppard as Paul needs to become a character who should be deserving of someone like Holly Golightly’s impenetrable charm, in which he succeeds. Paul lands in a moment in life where he needs his big break to succeed. The chemistry built between Hepburn and Varjak creates such a lovely pairing you only hope comes together even with the conflicting aspirations they have.
It makes for such a lovely story etched in the history of Hollywood and that should continue to be celebrated except for its one incredibly glaring and horrendous aspect. If anyone has seen the film, they will have witnessed the deeply racist and incredibly offensive Yunioshi portrayed by Mickey Rooney. Yunioshi is the landlord of Holly’s building and at every turn, he gets annoyed by the noise and commotion caused by the young Holly. It becomes grotesque with Mickey Rooney not being an Asian man but being made to look like a stereotypical Asian man from the eyes to the mannerisms and accent. I cannot imagine anyone, even back in 1961, found this portrayal to hold any comedic value in any way. Not only is it racist, but it feels like it’s from a completely different movie. All of the scenes utilizing this horribly depicted character do absolutely nothing for the narrative. It almost feels like they completed the story but wanted to add more comedic relief, so they decided to add an angry landlord and for some reason, let’s make him an Asian man. Even with the rest of the story being lovely, having this character tarnishes the film a bit for me quite honestly.
It would be a wonderful experiment for someone to edit Breakfast at Tiffany’s into just the scenes of Holly and Paul while eradicating all of the Yunioshi moments. It would make for a much better film. Unfortunately, it will forever remain a part of its legacy, which is why I will never fully love this film like other romantic comedies. The highs hit in this film shows some of the best of classic Hollywood filmmaking while displaying abhorrent racist material disguised as comedy.