The gender-bender film Breakfast on Pluto (2005) from Neil Jordan, set in the early 1970s, is definitively not the equal of Jordan's classics The Crying Game (1992) or Mona Lisa (1986) because unlike those other two films, Breakfast is decidedly unsexily cast & not at all seriously played. It is three-fourths comedy & one-fourth dramatic & entirely homely.
Patrick "Kitten" Bradey is the village sissy, bastard son of a priest. He strives to live a happy life & to be entertained even while being abused for his interest in girly things.
It's never clearly laid out whether Kitten is legitimately transsexual in disposition, or only a sissy who likes the attention from being a drag-queen, whether positive or negative attention. The character is too unspecific to pigeon hole one way or the other, & thereby potentially more than a cipher whose nature is supposed to prove one thing or another.
Eventually Kitten runs off & hooks up with the lead singer of Billy Hatchet & the Mohawks. Kitten becomes the band's "squaw" doing offensive Indian-girl drag on stage.
Except for delighted Billy (Gavin Friday) who has IRA contacts, the rest of the bandmates are kind of freaked out by the relationship & don't believe it's going to do their musical careers any good. Which is absolutely correct.
The film runs to an epic length over two hours, & the first half hour is rather tepid. Kitten makes so few concessions to the world, & can be himself so judgemental, bitchy, & selfish, that he's kind of an annoying fuckhead.
But slowly the viewer will warm to what does in time become a kind of heroic refusal to compromise, which is in itself a kind of machismo under the paint & feathers.
The high camp element of the film clashes with the horror of the IRA activities. The desire for this intergendered weirdo to find a place of goodness in a world full of badness makes for an interesting Odyssey, despite the inadequacy of the actor & the lack of focus in the script.
Told in short chapters, characters are encountered, interacted with, then discarded from the tale too rapidly for any of it to be more than superficial. Perhaps the point really is that Kitten for all his/her oddness is just that kind of superficial being.
Eventually Kitten leaves Ireland & sets out for London seeking his long lost mother (Eva Birthistle). In the city he'll become a street hustler, almost get killed, & have transient romances & adventures.
He walks away from a job dressing as a giant mouse at a children's park, a job I wouldn've thought he'd've liked & kept a bit longer. The "short chapters" nature of the film's structure does mean that some elements of the film are way too quickly dismissed & we never do have a clue why risking AIDs as a tranvestite prostitute would be more appealing than sticking to the giant mouse job.
So too when he hooks up with Albert the Magnificent (Steven Rea) & becomes part of the stage magician's act, he has affection & gets to be flamboyant for a living, but walks away from that into the next chapter for more sex-industry escapades for no reason beyond the character's relentless stupidity.
The film might've been stronger if it had been a half hour shorter & developed slightly fewer incidents, developed them more rationally. As it is we're left only to suppose that the very lucky Kitten is merely flighty & self-destructive & refuses to hold onto anything that's right or good.
One long segment regards an IRA bombing of a London club at which Kitten is slightly injured, then mistaken for a crossdressing terrorist. For seven days the cops physically & mentally abuse Kitten trying to get a confession out of him, until slowly, mostly against their own inclinations, the cops not only realize they've made a mistake, but they've come to be rather fond of the weirdo.
When one of the cops later spots Kitten turning tricks in drag, instead of making an arrest he introduces Kitten to some women who put him in a peep show, where he can make a living behind glass & not risk death. I was frankly more interested in that cop than Kitten, who was a more promising character.
One day the priest who sired him (Liam Neeson) looks into the peep hole & there's a rather loony but very touching reunion with dad.
After half connecting with the mother who abandoned him, Kitten returns to Ireland, cements a good relationship with the priest, & helps a lifelong friend raise her illegetimate child, forging a unique family life that seems likely to be a happy one for a while -- unless or until Kitten flightily moves on to something dangerous as he seems always inclined to do.
The soundtrack is loaded with charming odd pop songs like Harry Nelson's "Me & My Arrow" & the wonderfully wacky title song which I'd never heard before, a strange soundtrack for the biography of a strange character.
Cillian Murphy as Kitten slowly gains our sympathy, & will probably have the sympathy of fellow sissies right from the start, though the repellant aspect of his characterization never quite allow him the least bit sex appeal.
At the same time Liam Neeson, in what has got to be the hardest role he ever had to render credible, managed to make it one of the great performances of his career. If one went through the support cast assessing each performance, it'd be one bit of praise followed by another, with only Cillian being inadequate to a difficult task.
A peculiar comedy, in many ways Neil Jordan has refused, as Kitten refused, to make any concessions to the audience, demanding the film be taken on its own terms, whatever those are. It may not be the equal of Jordan's best work, but it's thoroughly original, a tragicomedy that forces viewers to think a bit more deeply about the world.
For me, though, Breakfast on Pluto failed because of the superficiality of the character & chapters, & even more because Cillian in drag was pure freakshow, in severe contrast toThe Crying Game which totally broke down the gender barrier with a character all sexes would have to admit had unquestionable physical appeal.
There will never again be an audience who did not expect the moment of revelation, until it happened, when Dil reveals her beautiful boy's body to her startled lover in The Crying Game.
I remember the exciting surprise of it, & took friends to the theater the next day before they had a chance to see any reviews, & they too failed to see it coming, & were delighted.
The strength of the film, however, is in the fact that it is still a wonderful story beautifully told even years later when the novelty of the unexpected is just history, & the film's only surprises are the excellence of the writing & acting.
It's unfortunate Jaye Davidson didn't like being a freaky sex object to all sexes all around the world. The notoriety, the threat of stalkers, the creepy shutterbugs & poperatzi threw the kabosh on any desire to be an actor always in the public eye.
The film, though, will remain as a classic for all time, a great thriller of IRA terrorism, & a spectacular tale of characters.
The first half of the film regards the most sensitive of the Irish terrorists, Fergus (Stephen Rea), who develops a warped sort of friendship with Jody, a captive British soldier (Forest Whitaker).
If this had been the whole substance of the film it would've been enough, as this relationship between guard & captor, revealing their mutual humanity, is itself a beautiful & sad story.
Jody wants to live, & is doing his best to win some sympathy from the man whose job it will be to kill him.
We much later realize he was also, in a strange joking sort of way, but also with chivalrous heroism, trying to provide for his girlfriend Dil; for in the event that he can never return to her, he wants Fergus to be there for her.
Fergus is afterward haunted by the borderline-friendship & eventual death of the likeable Jody. And as Jody had requested it, Fergus finds his way to a London neighborhood where he gets to know, & begins courting, a beautiful black woman, Dil, who works in a hair salon.
Fergus's persistant gloominess & quietude; his inability to escape from his obligations to the IRA without himself being killed; the murderous Jude (Miranda Richardson) who wants Dil dead, all of this would make for a great & moody tale even if Dil didn't steal the show for herself.
Dil's conviction that she is after all deeply loved; Fergus's insistence that it's -- what?, friendship only? guilt over Jody? -- & his sacrifice for her safety, this is a love story of amazing power, inside a thriller that is strong stuff in & of itself. It's also the film Jordan is going to forever have to live up to, which hasn't thus far proven easy.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl