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Classic Woman-centric Movie Review: “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”

Hello, Persephoneers! After a very long week, let’s sit down with an oldie but a goodie, a film that’s on nearly everyone’s to-view list: “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” made in 1961 and starring Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, Patricia Neil, and Mickey Rooney, and based on the novel of the same name by Truman Capote.

The film chronicles the friendship between young writer Paul Varjak and his madcap, beguiling neighbor, Holly Golightly. Paul, who is being supported by his very married girlfriend, is supposed to be writing a novel, and it’s Holly who first lets him into his new apartment building and into her strange life. Holly, a callgirl, is running from her old life, but she’s determined to be able to make enough so that she and her brother Fred, who is due to leave the army soon, are able to live a decent life. As time goes on, Paul falls in love with Holly, and she with him, though it’s very difficult for her to process the feelings and accept that Paul loves her for who she really is.

movie poster for Breakfast at Tiffany's
Movie poster for film, via Wikipedia

One of the biggest themes of this movie has to do with a woman’s self-actualization and self-acceptance. Holly has lived up to what other people have expected her to be for so long that she’s almost frightened of the person she really is. When she feels she can no longer live up to the expectations of the people around her in one place, she flees to another, wanting to be something else. Holly struggles with her own identity, and though she has fooled herself into thinking that she’s running from past trials she has faced without looking back, she is really refusing to cope with these things and understand how they have made her into the person that she is today. The people around her have always wanted her to play a certain part and she has always done so, and because of this, she has never had the chance to get to know herself as a person and to really make her own choices. Paul, who started out as Holly’s friend, loves her for the person she is, yet he doesn’t feel overly entitled to have her love him in return. He lets her make her own choices, but at the same time, he’s honest with her about what he thinks about her decisions. It’s Paul’s unwavering friendship and acceptance that help Holly to come to terms with the person she is and to stop running and live her life.

While this film has its good points, it also has its highly problematic points, particularly with the portrayal of upstairs neighbor Mr. Yunioshi. Mickey Rooney played the character in yellowface, and Yunioshi is shown as an extremely difficult man who leads a very regimented life. At the same time, because of his accented English and Japanese origins, he’s made out to be an object of ridicule and is used for comedy relief.

Yet despite this particular point, the film is quite enjoyable, and the predicaments Holly finds herself involved in, and inevitably drags Paul into, are so absurd and farfetched that they’re funny. Henry Mancini’s music perfectly fits the film, and it also retains much of the witty dialogue featured in the novel. While the film is mostly humorous, there are very poignant moments as we watch Holly change from someone who is frightened of life to someone who actually wants to live it.

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