Blake Edwards' greatest visibility has been as a director of comedy. His comedies themselves display great diversity, from the pratfalls and high-jinks of the Pink Panther films to the utter sophistication of a film like Breakfast at Tiffany's, with which he earned a reputation as a director of stylish, urbane comedy. This is impressive when one looks at the rest of his comic body of work, from Inspector Clouseau well into the 1980s and '90s, which predominantly brandishes a profound respect for the silent slapstick tradition wherein the process of structuring physical comedy takes precedence over dialogue, theme, plot and character development; the structure of the comedy becomes all of those things. But Tiffany's is a very complex and almost painfully cosmopolitan film.
When it comes to cinematic fashion and romance, few are more fetishistic than this fun-loving Sunday drive of a movie, an imaginative but unworkable fantasy comprised of uneven portions of farce, flirtation, intensity, broad comic facial expressions and Manhattan's most flamboyant East Side districts staged in the most saturated colors. Most notably perhaps, this is a showcase for Audrey Hepburn. And it isn't just the countless costume changes, although style and elegance have always been her defining characteristics (thanks to this film to a major degree). Indeed this is not the easiest role. It needs her to do more than smile at the camera and protract her lines, although Holly initially seems to be little more than a scatterbrained, well-to-do woman about town, the more we get to know her, the more we glean the displacement and longing that've led her to cling to her present situation. Holly has low self-respect and a history she's not proud of, and she has surrounded herself with beaming, ostentatious objects in an endeavor to give herself a degree of cozy complacence. She's a sham, but, in the words of a supporting character, she's a "real phony." Opposite her, playing striving writer Paul Varjak, is George Peppard, who for at least one movie gets to stand in the limelight, although the script asks little scope of Peppard, and consequently, his performance seems fairly flat. He and Hepburn create a persuasive connection. Their interplay has a light-hearted, accustomed texture to it, getting us to feel that their characters have a rapport.
In any case, however, the film has been criticized for its portrayal of the character Mr. Yunioshi, Holly's bucktoothed, stereotyped Japanese neighbor, played by Mickey Rooney, and rightly so. This ridiculous role brings the film down a couple of major notches. Rooney wore Yellowface to change his features to a caricatured approximation of a Japanese person. Even beyond the lack of good taste, if there's a reason for the presence of the character, it's not on the screen. Producer Richard Shepherd apparently apologized, saying he'd be thrilled with the film where it not for this cheap and extraneous caricature. Also, supposedly, Edwards himself stated that upon reflection he greatly regrets it. But it's there, a degrading example of white people controlling what it means to be Asian on stage and screen, an example of overt racism common to the times.
That aside, this account of a party girl in love with a sensitive stud lets Edwards fashion a very aristocratic film, with pleasant Technicolor photography by Franz Planer. The final scene leaves an equally pleasant taste in one's mouth, a humane self-contained story that you can make maple syrup out of, though if you aren't moved by it you likely rape kittens Se7en-style.Taken as a superficial mythological poem, Breakfast at Tiffany's has a sort of charisma.