Monday, September 26, 2005


(Special Presentations, UK/Ireland, 135 minutes)
Directed by: Neil Jordan
Written by: Neil Jordan and Patrick McCabe, based upon the novel by Patrick McCabe
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Stephen Rea, Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson, Gavin Friday, Bryan Ferry

"Breakfast On Pluto" begins in a familiar milieu for longtime fans of Neil Jordan, whose last collaboration with novelist Patrick McCabe gave us the unheralded masterpiece "The Butcher Boy". Working-class Ireland, religious oppression, gender-bending, political violence, hallucinatory turns, the very presence of Stephen Rea--at first blush this could easily be read as a companion piece to his breakthrough art house hit "The Crying Game". But this rollicking--and too often rambling--first-person fable of is unique in that it's the cheeriest--dare-I-say "sweetest"?--movie Jordan's made since his unsuccessful attempts at mainstream yucks ("High Spirits", "We're No Angels").

Pushing a stroller, chatty transvestite Patrick/Patricia Brady (Murphy) begins "her" story in the 1958, when, as a toddler, he was abandoned on the doorstep of kindly parish priest Father Bernard (Neeson) and eventually adopted by a stern foster mother in working class Tyreelin, Ireland. It doesn't take long for Patrick to discover his proclivity for cross-dressing and theatricality, much to the chagrin of less-than-progessive Ma Braden. He learns from a friend's father that his real mother is Eily Bergin, who lives in London and bears an uncanny resemblence to glamourous screen siren Mitzi Gaynor. After getting into trouble for his class project--a story about Father Bernard's sexual encounter with his maid--and instigating a fight at a local dance club, Patrick decides its time to flee his repressive surroundings. He unveils his new, permanent persona as "Kitten", and determined to find his birth mother, runs off with a biker gang.

Kitten hooks up with musician Billy Rock (Friday), who invites him on the road to perform in Indian squaw attire as part of his country-rock act. Patrick lives for a time in Billy’s cramped coastal trailer and discovers a hidden weapons stash belong to his lover’s IRA buddies. Detesting violence, Kitten tosses them into the sea. Arriving in London, Kitten hooks up with several more eccentric characters: cynical John-Joe (Gleeson) who performs at a children's theme park, the suave but sinister Mr. Silky String ("Roxy Music"'s Bryan Ferry) who nearly strangles Kitten during his brief stab at prostitution, and the sweetly smitten Bertie (Rea) who hires him as an assistant to his magic act. During a performance, the club is bombed. The police brutally interrogate him but he's eventually released. He'll join a peep show, befriend unmarried mom-to-be Charlie, and learn of his mother's current residence...and at no time will he ever see the negative side of any person, place, or thing...

Sure there's IRA bombings, police brutality, and often violent homophobia to keep it above the level of a Gaelic "La Cage", but Jordan and McCabe keep things frothy with outrageous period detail, delightfully kitschy 70s bubblegum pop, computer-generated talking robins, and above all, Kitten's indefatigable optimism--like Forrest Gump, she's a conduit to history, albeit one with Oscar Wilde's wit and Marc Bolan's wardrobe.

Obviously, Jordan is so enchanted with this colourful lead and the turbulent period that he divides his adaptation into a whopping 36 chapters (presumably lifted directly from the McCabe book), and from this viewer's POV, it's all a little too much of a good thing sometimes. While much of its episodic structure is amusing and genuinely moving (it successfully avoids the uneven camp of "Velvet Goldmine"), the tale's inevitable confrontation with Kitten's mother feels like the umpteenth false climax. A small quibble perhaps, given Murphy's brave and gleefully go-for-broke performance, matched by supporting turns from a who's who of Ireland's finest thesps (but Neil--where's Colm Meaney?).

Best use of Bobby Goldsboro's "Honey"--ever.

Robert J. Lewis