Movie Mom

The combination of beautiful new “centennial editions” of two Audrey Hepburn classics and the prospect of Valentine’s Day in just two weeks inspired me to lead off February with two Hepburn DVDs of the week. This week, it’s Breakfast At Tiffany’s, based on a novella by Truman Capote, a glossy but sometimes bittersweet love story between two people who have made many compromises who find the courage to build a relationship that will make them be honest with each other and themselves.

Paul Varjack (George Peppard), a writer who is being supported by a wealthy woman (Patricia Neal), is intrigued by his upstairs neighbor, Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn). Holly is an enchanting combination of breathtaking elegance, glossy Manhattan sophistication, and an engaging willingness to confide in Paul because she says he reminds her of her brother Fred. Still, she doesn’t really tell him anything about herself, except that she likes to go to Tiffany’s when she has “the mean reds” and needs to be surrounded by something comforting. She has a very active social life, but no particular job, and she picks up money in a number of odd ways from men, the oddest being getting paid to visit an elderly mob figure in Sing Sing prison once a month.

A man seems to be following Paul, but when Paul confronts him it turns out he was following Holly. He explains he was once Holly’s husband, and that he took care of Holly and Fred when their parents died and married her when she was 15. He has come to take her back home to rural Texas. But she tells him that she is a “wild thing” and cannot be kept in a cage, and sends him home alone.

Holly’s plan is to marry a wealthy man, so she can take care of Fred when he gets out of the Army. She is almost successful in becoming engaged to a millionaire, but he is scared off when it turns out that she has unknowingly been carrying messages back and forth in her visits to Sing Sing. Paul comforts her when her brother is killed, and he realizes he has fallen in love with her. She will not admit to loving him, and he accuses her of being afraid to let herself become too close to anyone, even her cat. She realizes that she wants to be with someone she can really love and runs after him and the cat in the pouring rain.

Discussion: Holly says, “I can’t think of anything I’ve never done” and “I’m used to being top banana in the shock department.” This might sound tawdry from most people, but she manages to make it seem as though she found it all a delicious adventure. She tries hard to protect herself from her feelings, categorizing all the men she considers possible partners for her as “rats and super rats,” planning to marry a man she does not love, refusing to give Cat a real name, trying to create a world for herself that is a perpetual Tiffany’s, where “nothing bad could happen to you,” but it does not work. Holly’s carelessness about forgetting her keys and imposing on others to get in, about her apartment decor and about Cat, and about her means of support, all hide a core of pragmatic resolve, as we see in Doc Golightly’s story about her, and by her devotion to Fred. They also hide her vulnerability, as though she feels that if she does not float above her emotions she will give way entirely. She does give way entirely when Fred is killed, an outpouring of real emotion that scares away the man she is cultivating.

Paul sees this because it parallels his own experience. He once cared about writing, but as the movie opens he has given up any notion of personal or artistic integrity to allow himself to be kept by a wealthy woman. Her grotesque over-decoration of his apartment makes him just another ornament for her collection. His relationship with her is his way of protecting himself from taking the risk of feeling deeply, as an artist or as a man. Paul and Holly understand each other, and that understanding makes them ashamed of the hypocrisy of their lives.

Holly describes “the mean reds” as “suddenly you’re afraid, and you don’t know what you’re afraid of.” Everyone has this feeling from time to time, but it resonates particularly with teenagers, who are experiencing more volatile and complex emotions than any they have known before, and who tend to conclude that since they are new to them, they have never been felt before. This movie provides a good opportunity to talk about those feelings and strategies for handling them.

Parents should note that on their day in New York together, Paul and Holly steal two masks from a dime store for fun. Although it is probably not a good idea to make heavy-handed references to this as a moral failure, in discussions with teenagers, parents may want to voice their concerns. Families may also want to talk about the portrayal of the stereotyped Japanese upstairs neighbor by Mickey Rooney, insensitive by today’s standards. The DVD extras include a short film exploring this issue.

Questions for Kids:

· Have you ever felt “the mean reds”? Why does Tiffany’s make Holly feel better when she feels that way? What makes you feel better?

· Why did Holly marry Doc? Why did she leave him?

· What makes Paul decide to break up with the woman he refers to as “2-E”?

· What did O.J. mean when he called Holly a “real phony?”

Connections: Author Truman Capote is portrayed as a child in “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “A Christmas Memory.” “Moon River,” one of the most memorable songs in the history of the movies, was written around Hepburn’s sweet, but limited, range and won the Oscar for Best Song.

One of the DVD extras has some of the actors from the memorable party scene in this film reminiscing about it. Blake Edwards enjoyed that scene in this movie so much that he went on to make an entire movie about a crazy party called, not surprisingly, “The Party.” It is not as good as some of his other movies, including this one, “The Great Race,” “The Pink Panther,”and (for mature teenagers only) “Days of Wine and Roses,” and “Victor/Victoria.”

Activities: Visit Tiffany’s. The novella, by Truman Capote, is worth reading for mature teenagers, but his Holly does not have the elegance and class that Hepburn brought to the role, and his Holly does not have the Hollywood happy ending of the movie. The DVD extras are excellent, especially the “style icon” exploration of Hepburn’s fashion sense and influence and the commentary from the movie’s producer.

I have one DVD to give away to the first person who sends me an email with “Breakfast” in the subject line. Good luck!

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