There are some acts of hubris so audacious, all you can do is sit back and goggle. And then there’s Jennifer Love Hewitt, coexecutive-producing and starring in The Audrey Hepburn Story, a combined effort so extravagantly overreaching that — well, you gotta hand it to this Hewitt kid: She’s got guts. Cannily surrounding herself with a cast of impersonators who are mostly much worse than herself, she turns re-creations of Hepburn touchstones such as Broadway’s Gigi, Roman Holiday, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s into a Party of One — in any given scene, it’s only Hewitt whom the camera guides you to watch. The result is a corny, curious, but achingly sincere and fitfully enjoyable TV movie.
Granted, to reach such a judgment, it helps if Audrey Hepburn, the stringbean coquette who set the style for a generation of thin young women, is not your cup of chamomile. I didn’t come to this TV movie with much invested in having Hepburn preserved as an inviolate icon; I guess I’ve never had much use for the precious gamine quality that made Hepburn such a cherished movie star.
So if Hewitt — licking her wounds from the ratings failure of her Party of Five spin-off, Time of Your Life, and a fizzling feature-film career (is anyone making it a Blockbuster night with Can’t Hardly Wait?) — wants to blow what’s left of her showbiz capital to bankroll a Hepburn vanity production, I say more power to her. Heaven knows, Hewitt’s reverent approach to Audrey H. shouldn’t offend any of the millions of people who admired the actress, who died in 1993.
The Audrey Hepburn Story features a script by Marsha Norman, whom we’re obliged to refer to as the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the play ‘Night, Mother, yet whose creaky sense of dramaturgy leads her to the old flashback-while-filming-a-legendary movie device — in this case, 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In the Hewitt-Norman pop-psych interpretation of the actress’ life, Audrey was consumed with being liked, especially by powerful men, because she’d been abandoned by her own beloved father as a child (he’s played here by a wan Keir Dullea). And so Hepburn is shown fretting on the Tiffany’s set because author Truman Capote (a hand-flapping Michael J. Burg) never smiles at her. Between scene changes, as she’s being powder-puffed and fussed over, Hewitt-Hepburn looks moony, recalling her life story.
The young Hepburn is ably played by two actresses, Sarah Hyland (Audrey, age 8) and Emmy Rossum (Audrey, age 14). By the time Hewitt takes over, about 30 minutes into this three-hour production, pirouetting prettily in a dance class, people are murmuring, ”She can’t dance and she can’t sing” yet ”Audiences love her!” Some saucer-eyed French guy tells her, ”I am seek in luff wees you!” He’s the first of many to be seek in luff with Hepburn. Gabriel Macht, from NBC’s The Others, is, I’m afraid, a terribly insipid excuse for a William Holden (her amorous costar, on screen and off, in Sabrina), but Will & Grace’s Eric McCormack makes a marvelous Mel Ferrer, who becomes her husband. I have no idea whether actor-director Ferrer was as roguishly charming as McCormack plays him, but he certainly livens up the movie for a brief spell.
Hewitt is excellent at conveying Hepburn’s studied modesty (”I’m tall and skinny with a long neck and big feet”), and when she silently puts on a wagon-wheel-huge hat designed by Hubert de Givenchy (Marcel Jeanin), Hewitt really does, for a few seconds, capture Hepburn’s tightly controlled allure. But take a look at the original Breakfast at Tiffany’s movie, directed by Blake Edwards, and you realize that Hewitt and her director, Steven Robman of Party of Five, have ignored an entire aspect of Hepburn’s appeal: She may have been fragile as Holly Golightly, but Audrey also gave this glorified tart a brittle edge of hardness that Jennifer Love never approaches.
Still, given the disaster this might have been, it’s a credit to Hewitt that the only truly awful moment occurs when she sings a soggy version of Henry Mancini’s Tiffany’s theme, ”Moon River,” with wincing winsomeness, as the actor playing Blake Edwards gazes at her adoringly. It’s at this moment that we stop thinking about Audrey Hepburn and start wondering…. Hey, does Hewitt still have a record contract with Atlantic? C+