Breakfast on Pluto

  
    Back in 1997, Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan and Irish novelist Patrick
McCabe collaborated on the screen adaptation of McCabe’s anecdotal novel
THE BUTCHER BOY. The film incorporated the fantasy world of its anti-hero
Francie Brady (played to perfection by Eamonn Owens), and Jordan cast many
familiar faces from his previous movies (e.g., Stephen Rea, Ian Hart) in
supporting roles.

    The pair have reunited to bring another of McCabe’s tricky novels,
BREAKFAST ON PLUTO, to the big screen. Like THE BUTCHER BOY, this
one also features an unlikely hero – a transvestite named Patrick Braden. In
the novel, he adopted the cruder nickname “Pussy” which for the movies
has been cleaned up a bit as “Kitten.” Obviously, other liberties have been
taken, but what the original author and the filmmaker have conjured up is
the tale of a wide-eyed, Candide-like figure. Wisely, the writers have chosen
to focus the film on Patrick’s search for his mother, who fled to London
shortly after giving birth.

    The film begins with Kitten (played to the hilt by Cillian Murphy)
pushing a pram down an Irish street in the 1970s. She begins to narrate
her life story to the small child and we suddenly flash back to the 1950s.
Here Jordan makes a slight misstep in having CGI robins chirp gossipy
comments replete with subtitles, especially when a baby boy is left on
the doorstep of the presbytery of Tyreelin, Ireland. I was reminded
somewhat of Todd Haynes’ opening shots of
VELVET GOLDMINE, and
indeed throughout much of my viewing of
BREAKFAST ON PLUTO, I kept
returning to Haynes’ movie. Certainly, the time frame of both films overlap,
particularly with the rise of glam rock. It was a brief time where sexual
ambiguity was – if not accepted – tolerated, at least. Both movies also
are essentially built around mysteries of personality, and both are
successful up to a point.

    McCabe’s novel is divided into many small chapters, in which Patrick
Braden’s life is recounted, and by having “Kitten” narrate the tale for the
screen, the writers have managed to keep her unique voice and viewpoint
at the fore.

    In addition to the flashback structure, the writers have chosen
to concentrate on Kitten’s search for the elusive woman who gave birth
to him. Variously, the teenage Patrick (who has already exhibited a
fondness for cross-dressing) learns that his father is probably the local
parish priest (Liam Neeson), his mother Eily Bergin (Eva Birthistle)
was the priest’s housekeeper who decamped to London after giving
birth. He’s also told that she bore a resemblance to film star Mitzi
Gaynor (mainly because she wore her hair in an upsweep). The more
Irish society and the local Church attempted to thwart his flamboyance,
the more outré Patrick would become, finally creating the persona of
Kitten.

    After spending a night with oddball group of bikers whose leader
introduces Kitten to druidism and marijuana, the youngster decides it
is time to leave home. Like Voltaire’s Candide, he encounters a variety
of figures in his travels. First up is Billy Rock (Gavin Friday), the leader
of a glam rockabilly band called the Mohawks. Billy becomes smitten
with the androgynous Kitten to the consternation of his band mates. It
doesn’t take long for Kitten to be banished, so Billy installs her in a
rundown trailer that was his mother’s. While aware that Billy supports
the Irish Republican Army, Kitten doesn’t quite grasp the details. When
the Troubles it a bit too close to home, though, she decides to take action,
and the results of her actions lead her to make the crossing to London.

    Like an Irish Blanche du Bois, Kitten finds herself depending on the
kindness of strangers, including John-Joe (Brendan Gleeson), a boisterous
worker in a children’s theme park, a mysterious and wealthy man driving
a Mercedes who isn’t all he seems (Brian Ferry), a down on his luck
magician (Stephen Rea) and a seemingly brutal policeman who shows a
more human side (Ian Hart).

    Throughout Kitten’s adventures, she doesn’t lose sight of her goal
– that is, finding her mother. When that moment arrives, it is played with
skill and delicacy by both Murphy and Birthistle.

    Jordan makes a few bad choices in his direction: the robins come off
as twee, and I’m doubtful that anyone under 40 will get the references to
Mitzi Gaynor. Still, the end result is a picaresque journey masterfully
realized.


               
Rating:                  B
               
MPAA Rating:         R for sexuality, language,
                                                  some violence and drug use
               
Running time:        135 mins.        


                   Viewed at the SONY Screening Room