White Christmas

(USA 1954)

“May your days be merry and bright; and may all your Christmases be white!”

— Cast

I’ve never heard anyone — not even my grandparents — call White Christmas their favorite movie. Nonetheless, as corny holiday adventure romantic comedies go, it’s a holiday treat that can’t be beat. This year, we caught a double feature (White Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life) complete with live piano, carols, Yuletide shorts, and Santa!

White Christmas follows Captain Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Private Phil Davis (Danny Kaye), members of the 151st Division of the U.S. Army, from a World War II battlefield where the latter sacrifices his shoulder to save the former, into their successful postwar Broadway partnership likely borne out of a sense of obligation, to a tiny Vermont inn where they both fall in love. Not with each other — though that would be interesting. No, with two nightclub singers they meet in Miami, “Sisters” Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy Haynes (Vera-Ellen, who’s visibly anorexic).

God help these misters! It’s love at first sight for Phil and Judy, but not for Bob and Betty (which amusingly are my parents’ names). The gals have to take off for a Christmas performance they booked in Vermont. Not wanting her to leave, Phil finagles a sneaky way to extend his time with Judy — much to Bob’s dismay. A startlingly sad surprise awaits them in Vermont, exactly where the gals are performing. It seems it will take a Christmas miracle to turn things around, but Bob and Betty and Phil and Judy just might pull it off — with a little help from their friends in the 151st Division.

Directed by Michael Curtiz, White Christmas is standard golden age Hollywood fare: slick sets, catchy songs, peppy dance numbers, and a cute, heartwarming, almost cloying plot that ends on a sunny note. It’s not over the top, like, say, Anchors Aweigh, but it’s totally entertaining and fun. The screenplay by Norman Krasna, Norman Panama, and Melvin Frank is energetic, building its narrative with familar elements: recurring jokes, antagonistic relations, a drag scene, eavesdropping, misunderstandings, feigned circumstances, setting something free, saving the day, blooming love, and of course snow on Christmas.

Irving Berlin’s music is classic: “Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me,” “Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army,” “Sisters,” and — duh! — the title track, a huge hit that was already a decade old by the time the movie was made. The single “White Christmas” holds the Guinness World Record as the top selling record of all time (https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/chart-beat/8022047/white-christmas-bing-crosby-number-1-rewinding-charts). Title of this movie explained.

With Dean Jagger, Mary Wickes, Johnny Grant, John Brascia, George Chakiris, Anne Whitfield, Percy Helton, I. Stanford Jolley, Barrie Chase, Sig Ruman, Grady Sutton, Herb Vigran

Production: Paramount Pictures

Distribution: Paramount Pictures

120 minutes
Not rated

(Music Box) B


(USA 2017)

George Clooney’s Suburbicon probably isn’t going to end up on anyone’s “best” list, nor should it. Too bad, because it’s got all the right elements: an experienced director with a strong point of view and his heart in the right place, a story by Joel and Ethan Coen, and a solid cast. The trailer sold me.

I guess I can see where this was headed. Unfortunately, though, some bizarre calls from the director’s chair drive Suburbicon into the ground. What could’ve been a biting and clever comment about race and the postwar American Dream, isn’t. Instead, Suburbicon is a confused jumble of ideas that don’t seem thought out or placed very well.

Suburbicon, which gets its name from the fictional suburban housing development where the film takes place, involves two concurrent stories that play out separately in late ‘50s suburbia. The main story, the one that the Coen brothers developed over 30 years ago, follows the boneheaded attempts of daft Suburbicon resident Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) at covering his tracks in an insurance scam he perpetrates with his sister-in-law, Margaret (Julianne Moore, who pulls a Patty Duke and does double duty also playing Gardner’s wife, Rose). Gardner is also dodging two amateur hitmen (Glenn Fleshler and Alex Hassell) who are trying to reach him. To make matters worse, his grade school age son, Nicky (Noah Jupe), inadvertently threatens to blow his cover. It isn’t long before it’s clear that Gardner’s in way over his head.

Meanwhile, the Mayers, a black family, move into Suburbicon, right next door to the Lodges. This subplot is based on an actual event that happened in Levittown, Pennsylvania, in 1957 (http://ushistoryscene.com/article/levittown/). In fact, the film uses what appears to be real-life footage from it. The residents don’t want a black family living near them, apparently because they think it will cause the neighborhood to go to hell. So, they stage a protest outside the Mayers’ house, chanting, playing instruments all night, and eventually trespassing and vandalizing. In the midst of this brouhaha, Nicky befriends the son, Andy (Tony Espinosa), who’s about the same age.

The residents get louder and more violent as the Coen plot develops into something darker and more violent.

Suburbicon has a few big problems. First, it clearly wants to make a grand statement or observation. It fails because it doesn’t integrate the two plots. We don’t get much about the Mayers. Whatever point this subplot was supposed to make is completely overshadowed by the main plot, and it comes off as merely an ironic parallel. It’s weird, manipulative, and simply doesn’t work.

Second, I have no idea how all that happens inside the Lodge residence does so with the huge mob next door. How does no one notice what’s going on right outside the door? How does everyone in that huge mob miss the people coming and going from the Lodge residence? Some of them are bloody. Hello?

Third, the plot twists are evident a mile away.

Fourth, neither Damon nor Moore pulls off the sinister vibe their characters call for. Somehow Clooney misses the mark on the sheer weirdness of the plot and the characters despite the sharp, exaggerated dialogue you usually get from the Coen brothers. Oscar Isaac is the only actor who nails it; his small part as an insurance investigator, regrettably short, stands out as the only bright spot here — although both Jupe and Nancy Daly as Gardner’s secretary deserve an honorable mention. Overall, though, the end result here is hopelessly flat and surprisingly lifeless. It’s frustrating to see.

I didn’t hate Suburbicon, but I didn’t love it. Its points are muddled. I expected a lot more, and there was so much to work with here.

With Karimah Westbrook, Leith M. Burke, Megan Ferguson, Jack Conley, Gary Basaraba, Michael D. Cohen, Steven Shaw, Don Baldaramos, Ellen Crawford, Cathy Giannone, Allan Wasserman, Mark Leslie Ford, Richard Kind, Robert Pierce, Pamela Dunlap, Jack Conley, Frank Califano, Lauren Burns

Production: Paramount Pictures, Black Bear Pictures, Silver Pictures, Smoke House Pictures

Distribution: Paramount Pictures

105 minutes
Rated R

(ArcLight) C-



(USA 1933)

Max Fleischer’s Snow-White is nothing like Walt Disney’s — and that’s good. Fleischer offers a dark, edgy, and weirdly trippy death-focused version of the story most know from Disney. He “staffs” this short with characters from his Betty Boop cartoons.

Betty Boop (Mae Questel) — as Snow White — is off to a bad start when a magic mirror with Cab Calloway in it tells the Evil Queen (Questel), who looks and acts a lot like Olive Oyl, that Betty is “the fairest in the land.” The Queen orders her flunkies, Bimbo and Ko-Ko the Clown, to kill Betty — off with her head!

Bimbo and Ko-Ko don’t really want to hurt Betty. They take her to the forest, where she escapes by jumping into a river that freezes her into a box that looks like a coffin and carries her down a hill to the seven dwarves. Meanwhile, Bimbo and Ko-Ko fall into a hole and land in a cave where the Queen is. She turns them into monsters as they sing a blues number.

The Queen asks the mirror again who the fairest in the land is, and this time the mirror explodes into a puff of smoke that puts her face to face with Betty. Things don’t end well for the Queen.

Roland C. Crandall’s animation is rough and jagged and kind of jumpy, giving the whole thing a nervous energy and a sketchy vibe. He loads this cartoon with ghosts, skeletons, armored executioners, and other creepy goblins. Ko-Ko dancing to “St. James Infirmary Blues” is rotoscoped from footage of Calloway performing the song. This Snow-White has a Cajun flavor to it. It’s an interesting approach.

In 1994, the United States Library of Congress deemed Snow-White “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (https://www.loc.gov/programs/national-film-preservation-board/film-registry/complete-national-film-registry-listing/).

With Billy Murray

Production: Fleischer Studios

Distribution: Paramount Pictures

7 minutes
Not rated

(YouTube) C+

The Godfather

(USA 1972)

“Why did you go to the police? Why didn’t you come to me first? What have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully?”

—Don Vito Corleone


“My father is no different than any powerful man, any man with power. Like a president or a senator.”

—Michael Corleone


“And may their first child be a masculine child.”

—Luca Brasi


“Hey Mikey, why don’cha tell that nice girl you love her? ‘I love you with all a-my heart. If I don’t a-see you again a-soon, I’m a-gonna die!'”

“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

—Peter Clemenza

Pretty much perfect, The Godfather was almost a different movie. Based on Mario Puzo’s insanely popular best selling 1969 novel, studio executives conceived a pulp gangster drama for its film adaptation. Good thing they wanted a “real” Italian-American to direct so it would be so authentic that moviegoers would “smell the spaghetti” (https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2009/03/godfather200903). Several unsuccessful attempts were made to attract a director, including Warren Beatty. Paramount “settled for” unknown Francis Ford Coppola, who took it somewhere else.

The Godfather is universally held in high esteem as one of the greatest films of all time—as it should be. It’s a a movie showered in superlatives—like the bullets that shower, well, most of the characters. It’s impeccable. We caught an anniversary screening.

Coppola’s morality play is a masterpiece, more complex than it seems at first and full of contrast and contradiction. A solemn and ominous mob drama that centers on Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) and his family business, The Godfather boasts one riveting career-defining performance after another—Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Richard Castellano, Robert Duvall, and Abe Vigoda, to name a few. The characters are great, and the dialogue—perfect! Not a single second is wasted here, not even that long ass wedding scene.

The observations about human nature are astute, and the spin on assimilation and the American Dream is clever. The dramatic arc involving the descent of younger son Michael (Pacino) into a moral apocalypse is something you can’t shift your eyes away from. Black as its promotional poster, The Godfather leaves so much to chew on. This is what cinema is all about.

In 1990, the United States Library of Congress deemed The Godfather “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (https://www.loc.gov/programs/national-film-preservation-board/film-registry/complete-national-film-registry-listing/).

With Sterling Hayden, John Marley, Richard Conte, Al Lettieri, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Gianni Russo, John Cazale, Rudy Bond, Al Martino , Morgana King, Lenny Montana, John Martino, Salvatore Corsitto, Richard Bright, Alex Rocco, Tony Giorgio, Vito Scotti, Tere Livrano, Victor Rendina, Jeannie Linero, Julie Gregg, Ardell Sheridan, Simonetta Stefanelli, Angelo Infanti, Corrado Gaipa, Franco Citti, Saro Urzì, Sofia Coppola

Production: Paramount Pictures, Alfran Productions

Distribution: Paramount Pictures (USA), Cinema International Corporation (CIC) (International)

175 minutes
Rated R

(AMC River East) A+

Fathom Events

Cool World

(USA 1992)

“That one, she’s a waste of ink.”

“What, you got ink for brains? Get down!”

—Det. Frank Harris

Oh boy. Ralph Bakshi’s Cool World is not good. It probably started out with some fun ideas, but man did they get lost in a morass of crap. A jailed cartoonist (Gabriel Byrne) draws a scantily clad floozie, Holli Would (Kim Basinger), whom he fantasizes about and no doubt spills a lot of seed over while he’s locked up. Upon his release from the big house, he gets zapped into Cool World, a fifth dimension where humans (“noids”) interact with cartoons (“scribbles”). They can’t have sex with each other, though—as if that’s the first thing you want to do with a cartoon.

Oh, there’s also a random, inelegantly placed storyline about Detective Frank Harris (Brad Pitt), Cool World’s one-man vice squad, and how he ends up there after a motorcycle accident that kills his mother (Janni Brenn-Lowen).

Where to begin? The plot is full of unexplained holes, and I didn’t care enough to bother trying to fill them in. The jokes are lame, and there’s an awful lot of filler. I’ve never seen Basinger as boring as she is here, with lines like, “Now you can buy me more fries, dickhead.” Whatever. Byrne is an even bigger snooze, unable to feign an ounce of excitement over…anything. Cool World is a blatant ripoff of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Dick Tracy, and even Tim Burton’s Batman; sadly, the finished product doesn’t come close to any of them.

The animation, however, is cool: a kind of retro-futuristic Ren and Stimpy thing. The soundtrack, which features original songs by the likes of David Bowie, Thompson Twins, and My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, is great even if it’s so 1992 with its techno-industrial sound. Plus, Pitt is actually decent despite the material, his affected accent and the awful suit and tie combo straight from U Men or Oak Tree aside. It’s strange and sad to see him in something as soulless as Cool World, but he’s nice to look at.

With Michele Abrams, Dierdre O’Connell, Frank Sinatra, Jr.

Production: Rough Draft Studios

Distribution: Paramount Pictures

102 minutes
Rated PG-13

(MoviePlex) D-


(USA 2016)

“If you could see your whole life from start to finish, would you change things?”

—Louise Banks

Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival isn’t exactly what I expected. A sort of updated Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Eric Heisserer’s adaptation of Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life is a pretty straightforward observation about language. However, it’s a bit more academic than the average alien movie: it examines the theory of linguistic relativity, the idea that the structure of a language shapes the way its speakers relate to their environment (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistic_relativity) (http://www.linguisticsociety.org/resource/language-and-thought).

12 mysterious otherworldly spacecrafts land in what appear to be random places all over Earth—including remote Montana. It isn’t clear why they’re here, and people are freaking out. Not surprisingly, world leaders are perplexed—some are handling the so-called invasion better than others.

WARNING: Potential spoilers ahead!

The aliens, octopus-like creatures dubbed “heptapods,” hold visiting hours each day, allowing those who wish to engage them to do so—up close and personal inside their ship. A U.S. Army colonel (totally underused Forest Whitaker) seeks out linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) for a mission working with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and a team of scientists to figure out how to communicate with the aliens and find out what they want. Banks learns that they have a language—circles and curlycues that they blow into the air. The more of their “words” she learns, the more Banks has visions of her deceased daughter (Jadyn Malone, Abigail Pniowsky, and Julia Scarlett Dan).

Arrival does a nice job showing the limitations of language. A clever plot development involving a mutual misunderstanding of a word demonstrates how things can unravel on a dime. I like the depiction of the aliens in a totally plausible form. Villeneuve slowly builds suspense; he kept my interest almost all the way through. Sadly, Arrival pulls an emotionally manipulative sleight of hand toward the end. The wrap up is insipid; it knocked the film down a few pegs for me.

With Michael Stuhlbarg, Mark O’Brien, Tzi Ma

Production: Lava Bear Films, 21 Laps Entertainment, FilmNation Entertainment

Distribution: Paramount Pictures (USA), Sony Pictures Releasing (International)

116 minutes
Rated PG-13

(ArcLight) C+




(USA 1995)

“Searching for a boy in high school is as useless as searching for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie.”

—Cher Horowitz

The first screening of Chicago International Film Festival’s Totally ’90s series is Clueless, a sort of link between ’80s classics like Valley Girl and Heathers and later films like Election, 10 Things I Hate About You, Mean Girls, and even Fox’s current television series Scream Queens. Adapted from Jane Austen’s Emma, which I haven’t read and probably never will, Clueless transmits the novel’s heroine across time and space from outside London in the early Nineteenth Century to Beverly Hills in the late Twentieth. It’s a cute idea that works—I didn’t know until this screening that the story is 200 years old. As if!

“Hymenally challenged” (i.e., virgin) 16 year old California girl Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) is vain, popular, and rich. Perhaps not surprisingly, she’s incredibly superficial, even if she means well. Her mother died in “a freak accident during a routine liposuction,” leaving her father, brass-balled Type A litigator Mel (Dan Hedaya), to raise her. When Cher gets a bad report card, she enlists her bestie Dionne (Stacey Dash), a hip black version of herself, to help fix up two nerdy tough-grading teachers, Mr. Hall (Wallace Shawn) and Miss Geist (Twink Caplan). Her plan is simple: she wants to get them laid so they’ll chill out and be receptive to negotiating her grades. Meanwhile, Cher adopts a new student, “tragically unhip” druggie tomboy Tai (Brittany Murphy) as a pet project: Cher plans to make Tai more like Cher. Duh. Semi-crunchy, socially conscious stepbrother Josh (Paul Rudd) does not approve of Cher’s antics.

Written and directed by Fast Times at Ridgemont High‘s Amy Heckerling, Clueless feels like an ’80s throwback, but it’s still a lot of fun. Loaded with great zingers and one-liners, I laughed a lot. It also has a ton of references to ’90s pop culture that clearly date the film (Luke Perry? Snapple? A Cranberries CD?! Egads!). Clueless lacks a ceratin bite that makes “mean girl” flicks so, well, biting. I guess a large part is because Cher and Dionne aren’t really mean girls; they’re actually pretty naive. After all, it takes Cher awhile to figure out that Christian (Justin Walker), the guy she lusts after, is a friend of Dorothy. Hello?

With Julie Brown, Jeremy Sisto, Breckin Meyer, Donald Faison, Elisa Donovan

Production: Paramount Pictures

Distribution: Paramount Pictures (USA)

97 minutes
Rated PG-13

(Public Chicago) B-

Chicago International Film Festival


Florence Foster Jenkins

(UK 2016)

“People can say I can’t sing, but they can’t say I didn’t sing.”

—Florence Foster Jenkins

A lot of hype surrounded Florence Foster Jenkins before it arrived at a theater near us last fall. We wanted to catch it during its original run, but it came and went before we got around to seeing it. So, inspired by a post earlier in the day, I rented it on a Friday when we had no plans other than dinner at home. The night we watched it just happened to be Friday the 13th, which somehow seems appropriate.

Based on actual events and set during WWII, Florence (Meryl Streep) is a rich Manhattan society lady of a certain age who runs in an arty circle and knows a lot of people, some with money and others who follow it. She operates a private venue dedicated to opera, the Verdi Club, where she stars in a show and has a non-speaking role. Dying of either syphillis or the treatment for it—mercury and arsenic!—her one wish is to perform for an audience at Carnegie Hall. The problem is, she can’t sing; she’s downright awful. Her entrance here, lowered onstage from a rope and pulley while dressed as an angel with a harp, reminds me of Sarah Jessica Parker’s entrance (“I offer you mortals the bird of peace so that you may change your ways and end this destruction”) in Ed Wood, Tim Burton’s 1994 biopic about a similarly talentless film director who came along a decade or so later. The comparison is so apt that I wonder if it was intentional. Here, Florence’s husband, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), doesn’t help matters by exaggerating her talent.

Determined to make her dream come true, Florence hires a vocal trainer, Carlo Edwards (David Haig), and a pianist, Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg), to put together a show. Established and well-known Carlo is content to take Florence’s money, build her ego, and let her dream on. Budding Cosmé, however, struggles with lying to her about her obvious ineptitude, not to mention her negative impact on his professional reputation. He soon sees that those around Florence stretch the truth about a lot of things when dealing with her.

Nicholas Martin’s script is kind to its characters, going for laughs in a way that doesn’t demean any of them. I never heard of her until this film, but the actual Florence Foster Jenkins was an interesting person. Her singing truly was awful:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hcs9yJjVecs. As always, Streep is spot on with her portrayal. She seems to have fun in this role, and it shows. Grant, who usually bores me but doesn’t here, is well suited for St. Clair: he’s stuffy and straight, but he nicely coveys an underlying deceitfulness that doesn’t come off as sinister. I like the way director Stephen Frears plays with deceit here, ultimately using it to depict a very touching side of St. Clair—who lives with his mistress (Rebecca Ferguson) in Brooklyn in apartment that Florence pays for. Much to my surprise, though, Big Bang Theory‘s Helberg steals practically every scene he’s in: keeping it subtle with Cosmé’s homosexuality (as Cosmé himself no doubt would have done during his day), he plays his character as a spineless, perennially uncomfortable, asexual bundle of nerves. He peppers his performance with grimaces and nervous giggles. Later, he delivers a line to explain his tardiness to Florence (of course, it involves sailors) with perfect and priceless dryness. He outshines everyone here.

Florence Foster Jenkins has some funny moments and some very touching ones. I found it enjoyable enough, but certainly not a knockout. It could have benefitted from a little more quirk and edge, especially considering its title character who showed no shortage of either.

Also starring Nina Arianda, Stanley Townsend, Allan Corduner, John Sessions, John Kavanagh, David Menkin, and Sid Phoenix

Produced by Qwerty Films, Pathé Pictures International, and BBC Films

Distributed by Paramount Pictures (USA)

111 minutes
Rated PG-13

(iTunes rental) C



(USA 2016)

“I pray but I am lost. Am I just praying to silence?”

—Fr. Rodrigues

Just as main character Fr. Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) is conflicted about his faith, I’m conflicted about Martin Scorsese’s current project, Silence. This film is clearly a labor of love and something extremely personal, both of which I greatly respect. Its genesis dates back nearly 30 years to the controversial The Last Temptation of Christ—can there be a more fitting starting point?—when Scorsese read Shusaku Endo’s novel (the title is the same as the movie) about Jesuit missionaries and Catholicism in Japan in the 17th Century (http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/11/27/magazine/the-passion-of-martin-scorsese.html?_r=0&referer=https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/12/martin-scorsese-silence-theology-art-jesuits/510827/ ). Having a Jesuit education myself, the nuance of what drives the characters (i.e., the service-oriented “men for others” philosophy of the Society of Jesus and the desire to make the right decisions and find answers) is not lost on me.

Momentary diversion: I was simultaneously amused and wowed by the number of nuns and priests in attendance at the pre-opening screening that I attended. I say “amused” because the audience looked like a Catholic J. Crew catalog; and I say “wowed” because the turnout served as a testament to the weight of this film. I felt it, and it was heavy. Credible. Plus, what does it say that a lapsed Catholic like me shows up for the pre-opening screening of a religious film as if it were a release party for a new Madonna album? More conflict.

But I digress. Silence follows two Portuguese Jesuit priests—the aforementioned Fr. Rodrigues and Fr. Garrpe (Adam Driver)—on their search to find their spiritual teacher and mentor, Fr. Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who has gone missing in Japan. The Japanese state has banned Christianity: those who practice it are hunted down by a committee, tortured, and killed. There’s an easy way out, weird as it is, that involves stepping on Catholic icons. Unsettling rumors have come to light concerning Fr. Ferreira, the most troubling of which is that he renounced Catholicism.

Silence is a gorgeous film—Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography is breathtaking. I can feel every fly and bead of sweat I see on the screen. The idea of pushing “What Would Jesus Do?” to its mindfucking extreme is absolutely brilliant. The acting is generally flawless, but Issei Ogata easily shines lightyears beyond everyone else as the surprisingly unarresting, pragmatic, and understanding Inquisitor. Scorcese does a beautiful job demonstrating two timely ideas: tolerance is crucial for any civilized society, and doubt is totally normal. Can I get an amen? All that said, however, Silence is gratuitous in length, tedious, and exhausting. Painfully boring at points, even. The narration drove me crazy after awhile, as did the subpar Portugese accents. The ending is emotionally brutal; it’s ultimately satisfying, but you have to look closely and you have to be thinking. Normally, this wouldn’t be something worth mentioning; but at the end of such an energy zapper as Silence, it’s just not what I was prepared to do. I love what Scorcese gets at here; he does it artfully for sure, but I wish he had gone about it in a more direct and interesting way.

Also starring Ciarán Hinds, Shin’ya Tsukamoto, and Yôsuke Kubozuka.

Produced by Sharpsword Films, AI Film, CatchPlay, IM Global, Verdi Productions, YLK Sikella, and Fábrica de Cine

Distributed by Paramount Pictures

161 minutes
Rated R

(AMC River East) C+


Breakfast at Tiffany’s

(USA 1961)

“You musn’t give your heart to a wild thing. The more you do, the stronger they get, until they’re strong enough to run into the woods or fly into a tree. And then to a higher tree, and then to the sky.”

—Holly Golightly

So, “Audrey Hepburn is having breakfast at Tiffany’s”?! Why, yes, I would love to join her!

When Fathom Events, Turner Classic Movies, and Paramount Pictures invited me to “fall in love again” for a special 55th anniversary screening of Breakfast at Tiffany’s in a select theater near me, well, I couldn’t say no. Until now, I’ve only seen it on my television or computer screen.

I admit, I’m a sucker for this film—even though it’s not the kind of thing I usually go for, and Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi was a terrible idea even if many films of the era did the same thing to get a big name involved. Whatever. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like this film. Directed by Blake Edwards and adapted for the screen by George Axelrod, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a fine midcentury fairy tale. Set in Manhattan, Holly Golightly (Hepburn) leads a life full of the very trappings I imagined myself having as an adult: a cool apartment in a big city, great clothes, wicked accessories, lots of fashionable friends and acquaintances, wild parties, drinks all the time, travel plans, and generally risqué fun and fabulousness. I have some of them.

What’s brilliant about this story, though—and probably why it appeals to me—is its dark side. Nothing here is what it seems: what we see is a ruse—to use the words of O.J. Berman (Martin Balsam), Holly is a phony. Her life is phony. She puts on an act. It’s more than simply running away from her past, represented by ex-husband Doc (Buddy Ebsen) and his references to her former self, Lulamae. She’s not the naïve eccentric she would have everyone believe she is. She’s also not the high society sophisticate she presents, either: the apostrophe ‘s’ she adds to the name of her ideal escape (the store is called “Tiffany & Co.”) gives her away. Frankly, she’s not even true call girl material, however downplayed that part of her personality is (we’re only told that she gets fifty bucks for the powder room).

Like her dark sunglasses and the Halloween mask she steals from the five and dime with fellow phony Paul Varjak (George Peppard), Holly’s working a facade she hides behind. Holly is a product of Lulamae’s imagination; she left behind her life in Tulip, Texas, for a bigger, more exciting one. The problem is, she doesn’t seem to know exactly what she wants, bouncing carefreely from one half-baked plan to another. She’s afraid to commit to anything because doing so puts her in a vulnerable position. Why else would one call her cat, “Cat” (Orangie)? Oh, the poor slob without a name!

At the end of the story, Cat represents something different. Holly throws him out of the cab into the rain in a “bad” neighborhood. She realizes that she wants to belong somewhere, to someone. Ummm…Paul? I know Truman Capote wrote a different ending, and I tend to disdain a neat, happy Hollywood ending; but here, it’s perfect. I can’t see a better way to end this story. Sorry, Mr. Capote.

Three more things: Patricia Neal is fantastic as stylish girl “2E.” Henry Mancini’s score is the cherry on the top of this sundae—mmmmm! If I ever have two dogs, I’m naming them Sally Tomato (Alan Reed, who went on to be the voice of Fred Flintstone) and Mr. O’Shaunessy (Joseph J. Greene).

In 2012, the United States Library of Congress deemed Breakfast at Tiffany’s “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (https://www.loc.gov/programs/national-film-preservation-board/film-registry/complete-national-film-registry-listing/).

114 minutes
Not rated

(Evanston Century) A

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