For the longest time, I felt depressingly lonely in one area of my life. I thought that I was the only one who felt that way, and that it would be so for all eternity. Until one fateful morning in June this year, when I discovered that I was not alone, and that there was indeed someone out there who understood, and I nearly wept with happiness:
… that grating half-lisp that Hepburn affects…all that weird “call-girl-pretending-to-be-a-delightful-child” stuff…makes Golightly the second-worst female role-model of the 20th century, just after — actually no: Holly Golightly is the worst female role-model of the 20th century. If my daughters ever cite her as an influence I shall put them in a sack, throw them in the canal and then start again…
So said Caitlin Moran in my morning newspaper about Holly Golightly as played by Audrey Hepburn in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s, who to my utter bafflement seems to be universally lauded and constantly trotted out as one of the most iconic female movie characters of all time. I don’t know who is most to blame for Hepburn’s gibbering child-woman (or “sexy baby”, as my favourite TV show 30 Rock calls it) act-the director, the screenwriter, Hepburn herself (I’ll let Truman Capote off the hook since by all accounts the book’s Holly is quite different)-but it’s our collective fault as a civilisation for being unable to distinguish between “charming eccentricity” and “nauseatingly forced quirkiness”.
It’s difficult to understand how this film achieved the status of a classic, though that is not my main beef with it. Hepburn is not the most gifted of actors-if you watch closely you can see her going through the script directions in her head-but I can tolerate bad acting. I can even, at a pinch, ignore the unedifying racism of casting Mickey Rourkey as a “Mr. Yunioshi”, who periodically pops up to shout “I cawr the porice Miss Gorightry!”, as a product of its time.
What I cannot abide is how the character of Holly Golightly is composed entirely of infantile tics, rendering it impossible to take her seriously. Does my heart go out to her when she talks about her depression, or do I instead assume that, because she calls it “the mean weds”, she is actually a toddler learning to speak trapped in a grown woman’s body, like the reverse of what the female lead in the horror movie Orphan had? At times-and this shows how bad things had become-I even found myself wishing that Hepburn would lapse into her terrible Cockney mashup from My Fair Lady instead. As for “Moon River”, it is one of the best things about the movie, though of course Holly has to ruin it in the next scene by looking up kittenishly and gurgling “Watchoo doin?” at her neighbour, like all three-year-olds do when confronted with adult behaviour.
If you believe that the best cinematic characters reflect the way actual people behave, then the character of Holly Golightly is a travesty. If you instead believe that iconic movie characters should resemble the people we aspire to be rather than the grubby human beings we are, then it says something about our society that it thinks that the female half of the movie-going public aspires to be like someone who is, as Bertie Wooster’s Aunt Agatha would say, mentally negligible. Or as Holly would say, negwigible.