Standard Issue writers are revisiting a film/book/TV series to see if it’s stood the test of time. Here, Gráinne Maguire rewatches the film that was her favourite as a teenager.
What and why: The 1961 film based on a Truman Capote novella and my favourite film growing up.
Rated or dated: One summer, I watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s every morning over the school holidays. One day I forgot and got a headache. I still know most of the dialogue off by heart. I may have seemed like a dumpy, acne-speckled 16-year-old in rural Ireland, but in my head, I was the film’s heroine Holly Golightly; a gal about town in 1960s New York City.
Audrey Hepburn, as elegant as a cigarette holder, as beautiful as a Manhattan sunset, as romantic as a song strummed on a fire escape. Men adored her. Audrey wasn’t the type of girl sweaty Lynx Africa-soaked teenage boys lunged at drunk. They wanted to protect her, rescue her, love her. This film was, I was convinced, the perfect guide to life.
It follows Holly Golightly as she gads about New York in a series of chic black cocktail dresses, throwing amazing parties and trying to bag herself a millionaire husband. All she wants is enough money to rescue her beloved younger brother from the army and move to Mexico to raise horses. She is also a prostitute but that piece of information swooped elegantly over my teenage head. In my defence, apart from a few coy references to her earning $50 for “trips to the powder room”, it’s not an aspect of her life the film dwells on. “Being paid to go to the toilet?” I thought, “This girl has it made.”
Things change for Holly when Paul Varjak (played by Hannibal from The A-Team) moves in next door. He’s a wistful, once-promising author suffering from writer’s block and is immediately dazzled by his unconventional new neighbour. Paul Varjak was my dream man. Confident, sensitive, morally conflicted, in dark-rimmed glasses and a cardigan. Mother may I? He clearly adores Holly and spends most of the film gazing at her with giddy bafflement. Paul is also a sex worker of sorts, supported in his artistic endeavours by a rich married woman (played by Patricia Neal, later Roald Dahl’s wife).
Here is the film’s dilemma: after a lifetime of dealing with “rats” and “super rats”, will brittle Golightly be able to let her guard down to actually trust someone? Will Paul be able to get his shit together to be the man Holly needs? Why is Mickey Rooney living in their apartment block doing the worst Japanese impression of all time?
“Now I wonder if Holly is only loveable because Audrey Hepburn plays her. She could play Harold Shipman and make him seem luminous.”
My favourite moment is when, as Holly flees from a party she’s just thrown, a policeman arrives and asks her if she knows whose apartment it is. She just smiles beatifically, shrugs her shoulders and disappears into the New York night, cigarette holder in one hand, millionaire beau in the other. That insouciant shrug was everything. This was, I thought, how to be a woman. No one wants to be the hard-faced older married woman Paul sleeps with, with her clanking gold jewellery and tough cynicism. We all want to be doe-eyed Holly, vulnerable, a bit of a mess and infinitely adorable for it.
Watching it now, this feels more problematic. Teenage me didn’t realise how quickly vulnerability can curdle into neediness. How the type of men that behaviour attracts would give anyone a bad case of the mean reds. Hiding your insecurity with parties doesn’t make you dazzling; it usually involves crying in nightclub toilets.
Now I wonder if Holly is only loveable because Audrey Hepburn plays her. She could play Harold Shipman and make him seem luminous. What if Paul hadn’t have turned up? Would Holly have ended up an ageing globetrotting prostitute, covered in scabs, fighting in a skip with her pimp over a crack deal that went wrong? And was there ever a greater lie sold to the female population than the idea that men like Paul Varjak even exist? Should this film be recalled? Is Holly just another tedious manic pixie dream girl, saved by the love of a good man, doomed to life as a 60s housewife, hooked on Valium and sleeping with the gardener?
No, of course not. I still love this film but in a slightly different way. Now I don’t think Paul ‘saves’ Holly; I think they both ‘earn’ each other. At the end of the film Holly realises the scariest truth of all: that people do fall in love, that people do belong to each other, because that’s the only chance of happiness we’ve got. They admit their feelings not outside the world’s most glamorous jeweller, but looking like drowned rats in a rain-sodden alleyway. They finally see and accept each other for who they are; two exploited lost souls. They are brave enough to reject the compromises they made to survive in the big cynical city and instead reaffirm the integrity of love and youth.
It’s a message teenage me would have been completely baffled by but one, like true style, that never goes out of date.4984 Views
Gráinne Maguire is a comedian, comedy writer, lover and a fighter. Loves the Labour Party and Cheryl Cole in equal measures.