Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Remake "Breakfast at Tiffany's"!

What? I, an Audrey Hepburn fan since the age of four, am calling for one of her most iconic movies to be remade? Well, yes--but only if the new version strips away the romantic veneer and sticks to Capote's novella, which I just read for the first time.

It's a good thought-experiment, at any rate. And I'm not even talking about figuring out who would star in a new film version--I haven't gotten that far! (If you have any brilliant ideas, feel free to post them in the comments.) Rather, it's interesting just to ponder whether two Breakfast at Tiffany's films could coexist. I usually consider it sacrilegious to contemplate remaking a Hollywood classic--I'd throw a fit if anyone remade Casablanca or Bringing Up Baby or Vertigo. But at the same time, I am a lot more forgiving of remakes if the movie happens to be adapted from a work of literature. No one really minds that there are multiple versions of Little Women or Pride and Prejudice, do they?

And also, while the film of Breakfast at Tiffany's is immensely popular, it's not a perfect movie; a remake could improve on it, I think, much more than a remake of something like Casablanca could. The movie's most obvious flaw is its depiction of Mr. Yunioshi, the Japanese photographer--played by Mickey Rooney with buckteeth and an offensive accent. Reading the novella, I was pleased to discover that it does not treat Mr. Yunioshi as a buffoon or a stereotype. But the film also contains other, less obvious flaws that result from its hybrid nature. The screenwriter made it into a romantic comedy, but it's a lot more episodic than a typical rom-com, because it's adapted from a novella that is an episodic character-study. The scene where Holly's estranged husband, Doc Golightly, pays her a visit makes much less sense in the movie than it does in the novella.

Of course, it would be hard to eradicate memories of Audrey Hepburn. Some of the movie's dialogue was taken verbatim from the novella, so, when reading it, I couldn't help but hear Hepburn's vocal cadences. This, despite the fact that Capote thought Hepburn was miscast and wanted Marilyn Monroe to play the role! (More about this, and the contrast between the novella and the movie, in this excellent article from The Guardian.)

The novella takes place during World War II, not during the '60s--so, fortunately, the costume designer of this hypothetical remake wouldn't directly compete with Audrey Hepburn's classic Givenchy wardrobe. The '40s setting also means that Holly is a child of the Great Depression, which seems essential to explaining why she is the way she is. And there's one scene in the novella that I'm surprised wasn't included in the movie: Holly and the narrator go horseback riding in Central Park and the narrator’s horse gets spooked and runs away down Fifth Avenue. Wouldn't this be thrilling to see onscreen?

Most importantly, though, the novella was meant to be honest, even shocking; and after reading it, I feel sad that the wild and unscrupulous sides of Holly's character have been lost, dissolved in Hepburn's winsomeness (and the restrictions of the Production Code). The novella's Holly tells her cat to “fuck off” when she’s trying to abandon it; she bitchily implies that Mag Wildwood has the clap; she alludes to a history of childhood sexual abuse, made all the more poignant by the blasé Hollyish way in which she does it: “I toted up the other night, and I’ve only had eleven lovers—not counting anything that happened before I was thirteen because, after all, that just doesn’t count.” It's impossible to imagine Audrey Hepburn saying any of those things, but they are essential parts of Holly's character.

I guess Capote was unhappy with the Breakfast at Tiffany's film, but a passage of the novella seems to foreshadow what happened to his story once Hollywood adapted it. Holly Golightly reads one of the narrator's short stories and complains that it has too much description and "doesn't mean anything." The narrator, infuriated, asks Holly for an example of a story that she thinks does mean something.

"Wuthering Heights," says Holly. "My wild sweet Cathy. God, I cried buckets. I saw it ten times."

"Oh, the movie," the narrator says condescendingly.

Holly loves the film version of Wuthering Heights because it is thrillingly romantic, but if you've read Emily Brontë's novel, you know that it is a dark, sordid, disturbing book. And, just as it annoys me when people sigh over Heathcliff and say that Wuthering Heights is a vision of ideal love, it now annoys me that people think that the movie version of Breakfast at Tiffany's is the one that really "means something."


Anushka said...

You've piqued my curiosity - any thoughts on casting a few days later?

Marissa said...

No, it's a very tricky business! One thing I didn't mention is that in the novel, Holly is only 19 or 20 years old--most of the time she is successful at pretending that she is a worldly sophisticate, but we should be able to see, in isolated moments, that she is really a little girl that's been forced to grow up too fast. So you need a very young actress who nevertheless has the chops to take on this iconic role, the ability to act in a 1940s period style, etc. And she should also be an American--again, because underneath it all Holly is just Lulamae Barnes, from Texas. So I'm having a hard time thinking of actresses that fit the bill...

J. Marcher said...

I'd suggest Ellen Page. She looks young and she can act- it's hard to believe the star of "Hard Candy" is also "Juno."

Marissa said...

I hadn't thought of Ellen Page, but that's an idea--I really liked her in "Juno." She might have some trouble pulling off the sophisticated side of Holly's character, though.

I was also thinking maybe Evan Rachel Wood?

J. Marcher said...

Definitely a more glam look, but I haven't seen her in a leading role so I don't have an opinion about her.

Is Natalie Portman too old? I also forgot about Anne Hathaway- who would be my first choice now that I think about it.

Marissa said...

Portman is 28 and Hathaway is about to turn 27, so they may both be aging out of the role of Holly Golightly, as Capote conceived it. I like them both as actors, but I know they've both also been compared frequently to Audrey Hepburn--because they're classy, regal brunettes. I feel that if you're going to remake an iconic movie like "Breakfast at Tiffany's," it might make more sense to choose an actress who is NOTHING like Hepburn (and is maybe closer to Capote's desire to have Marilyn Monroe play the role)--a blonde, or a trashier brunette.

Dale said...

I have been obsessed with this question, too. Such potential for a new movie to tap into the novella's dark side. As Holly: Rachel McAdams.

Marissa said...

Rachel McAdams is a pretty good idea, Dale--she's 31, but seems younger, and though she's Canadian, she seems like she could play someone who was born poor in Texas.

Guitarrista Poeta said...

A remake that is true to the book would be fantastic. I read the book before I saw the movie and was really disappointed in the film as sweet as it is.
I'm surprised no one has it on their plate. A good production would obviously be a money maker. Trying to find another Hepburn is a mistake since she was miscast. Cast the role as Lula Mae, not Holly Golightly and go from there.
Jennifer Garner would have been great in the role 15 years ago. Portman can play anything but I would cast a lesser known, Ellen Page, Bella Heathcote, Sofia Vassilieva or Amanda Seyfried, someone who can go into the darker, less savory places that the role calls for.
Peppard's role could be played gay by Ed Norton or Jesse Eisenberg, someone capable of pathos. Think of a slightly older Stingo character in Sophie's Choice.
The cast would not be hard to assemble. The challenge would be to capture the complexities in the original story.

Guitarrista Poeta said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Marissa Skudlarek said...

Hi Guitarrista Poeta, thanks for commenting. Oddly enough I was just discussing "Breakfast at Tiffany's" with some friends last night!

I've never heard of Bella Heathcote and Sophia Vassilieva -- going to look them up now. Or -- though she's probably flooded with offers now -- what about Jennifer Lawrence?

And I like your comparison of the "Fred" character to Stingo in "Sophie's Choice."