In a juxtaposition so perfect it seems that the cinematic gods might have been smiling down amid the fog and freeze, I caught Closer and Breakfast at Tiffany's on consecutive days last week. While shockingly different in tone and approach, they are nevertheless both love stories.
Breakfast is a sweet story about Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard trying to escape their lives as genteel prostitutes (ignore the facile, much-repeated line about this being hard to detect - it's quite clear); in their worlds, they look for stability and love, which are not necessarily found in the same place.
Closer, on the other hand, is a hard-hearted bastard of a film (based on Patrick Marber's play), whose characters spend most of their time intuiting who their partner has screwed and then blowing up; given that the choices in the love-square are Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Clive Owen and Natalie Portman, it's paradoxically hard to envision either fidelity or infidelity as attractive options.
The films appear to take opposite means of approach - Closer with a viciousness best found in divorce courts, Breakfast with a sweetness all the more surprisingly given that it stems from Truman Capote's pen. But they are both metropolitan scenes, just in completely alien worlds. Had Marber's foursome been bed-hopping in early sixties New York, where people still wore suits to parties whose samba soundtrack wasn't ironic, no doubt they would have eloquently expressed their indignation and had a good cry. Mutatis mutandis, in glittering, harsh twenty-first century London, Hepburn and Peppard would have been calling each other fucked-up assholes.
This is all to say that both films are in fact similar at heart (or whatever passes for a heart in Closer). Each couple finds apparent stability, only for the heart (Closer: loins) to tear them away. Hepburn's Holly Golightly achingly drifts from plutocrat to plutocrat in the hope of escaping her prosaic rural past and rescuing her abandoned brother, sent to Korea to fight, but happily her heart leads her to Peppard, who in turn is kept afloat by une grande maitresse.
If Breakfast ends up with the right pair, Closer so often swaps combinations and guilt that it is hard to know if they all deserve each other or not. It is a cycle of revenge as bitter as hemlock, and just as poisonous. This coldness left me feeling slightly empty and unsure: it is easy to immerse yourself in the passions and problems of Breakfast, since the characters are desperately human, but Closer makes its cast so repulsive it is impossible to empathise or even care. It may be intriguing to find out where the human carousel stops, but it was not involving. Is Marber showing the emptiness of modern love and modern life?
Despite their very different worlds, Breakfast and Closer are certainly bed-fellows, albeit two who appear most mismatched. I would not, however, recommend consuming these as a double-bill: so much candy and so much acid are not a happy combination.