I shouldn’t be surprised that the Breakfast at Tiffany’s DVD comes in a pink box secured with a white ribbon, its elegance the quintessence of tidiness and class. And yet, I couldn’t imagine less appropriate packaging.
The reason I don’t approve of the box is probably the same reason I fail to appreciate the film as so many do: I’m a guy, and (kind of) an adult one at that. Maybe I can’t idealize Audrey Hepburn’s iconic Holly Golightly and her relationship with Paul (George Peppard) because I’m not a mid-pubescent Limited Too shopper or a nostalgic O magazine subscriber. Or maybe it’s because I have trouble glorifying petty theft, prostitution, and drug syndication—much less a protagonist who perpetuates all three.
Yes, Holly is undeniably glamorous, relentlessly fashionable, and despite sleep deprivation and a nasty hangover, literally rolls out of bed the most gorgeous woman on Earth; even that sleep mask couldn’t blemish her flawless eye makeup. And yet, unlike millions of adolescent Audrey Hepburn acolytes (and therefore call-girl wannabes), I personally can’t allow Holly’s physical perfection to (completely) compensate for her myriad character flaws.
Before her days as a spoiled socialite/semi-hooker, she was Loula May Barnes, teenage bride, mother to four stepchildren, and caretaker of her beloved developmentally delayed brother, Fred. When Fred goes off to war, Holly flees the briar patches of rural Texas in search of stardom in LA. You can’t blame her, really: her husband was at least twenty-five years her elder (when they meet, Paul assumes the man is her father), they weren’t her biological kids anyway, and what the hell is a briar patch?
But, on the eve of her first big audition in Hollywood, she inexplicably bails to New York where, she tells Paul, she hopes to earn enough money to open a horse ranch in Mexico with Fred, or at least support him upon his return from war. Considering her admirable goal, one can almost forgive her underhanded means of earning income—that is, delivering coded messages for an incarcerated drug lord and milking wealthy suitors in fifty dollar installments for “the powder room” or “cab fare.”
It’s a sympathetic situation until you realize that Holly never searches for gainful employment and, moreover, splurges on jewelry (lunch and dinner and Tiffany’s, too!) every time she contracts the “mean reds,” a euphemism for boredom and/or loneliness. Considering her monetary recklessness, she actually catches a lucky break when Fred is killed; based on the condition of her bank account (dwindling), cat (mangy, nameless) and apartment (a “dump,” according to just about everyone), she’s delusional to think she could care for her cognitively impaired brother, financially or otherwise.
If she didn’t have lustrous hair, candy lips, and dream eyes that turn one’s (my) body at the same time sweltering hot and completely numb, could we so easily overlook Holly’s incurable selfishness? Her unabashed shallowness? Her criminal complicity, not to mention the bribe of nude photos she uses to keep her neighbor from calling the police on her (until, of course, he’s so fed up with her nightly
disruptiveness that he finally does phone her in)?
Don’t, by the way, even get me started on Mickey Rooney as her Japanese neighbor, Mr. Yunioshi. Breakfast at Tiffany’s doesn’t need stereotyping and racial insensitivity (think, chicklets and “Ms. Gorightery!”) to sully its reputation any further in my book.
On an objective level, while Holly is merely unlikeable, her romance with Paul and everything that catalyzes it is downright unlawful.
How do the two first get acquainted? Trespassing! Only hours after their first meeting, Holly breaks into Paul’s apartment through the window at four a.m.—before even knowing his name.
Where do they take their first friendly outing? Prison! Paul accompanies Holly to the jail where she “unknowingly” receives and delivers messages to the mob boss.
What’s the one thing they have in common? Prostitution! The foundation of the friendship is that both are unfulfilled by their respective johns (despite the fact that these “sponsorships” and “cab fares” are the only thing sustaining their degenerate lifestyles).
And, what mobilizes their romantic relationship? Shoplifting! Only after Holly convinces Paul to help her steal animal masks from a corner store do the two share their first kiss.
Despite the overwhelming record against her—both criminal and otherwise—like all the other men in the film, I couldn’t help but fall for Holly. She’s so easy to simultaneously worship—stylish, glamorous, beautiful—and pity—vulnerable, lonely, lost. God, is she irresistible. God, am I a hypocrite. And, as much as I’d like to (rightfully) criticize her relationship with Paul, I’d be a liar if I told you my heart didn’t sink when the two rescue the cat and share that iconic kiss in the rain as the film ends.
What I realize is that when I sat down to watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I had no choice but to suppress the skeptical, jaded, adult parts of myself and instead take a leap of faith. I have trouble admitting it, but I didn’t want realistic and objective and true, I wanted an against-all-odds romance to prevail with a too-good-to-be-true ending. In other words, I wanted an elegant pink box tidily secured with a white ribbon.
I’d say that’s exactly what I got.
Ben Kassoy graduated from Emory University and now lives and writes in New York City. He has coauthored two books of humorous nonfiction and currently writes for several online publications, including Thought Catalog and Her Campus.