The Theory of Chaos

Monday, October 08, 2007

From the Archive - MOVIE REVIEW - Breakfast on Pluto

Originally published 12/6/05
Full review behind the jump

Breakfast on Pluto

: Neil Jordan
: Neil Jordan and Patrick McCabe, based on the novel by Patrick McCabe
: Alan Moloney, Stephen Woolley, Neil Jordan
: Cillian Murphy, Liam Neeson, Stephen Rea, Brendan Gleeson, Gavin Friday, Laurence Kinlan, Ruth McCabe, Ruth Negga

We’re blessed if, once a year, a movie provides us with a truly original character – one of those forces of nature so defiantly distinctive that they can reshape the world around them. Some, like T.E. Lawrence, shake history and re-draw map lines. Others, like Patricia “Kitten” Braden (Cillian Murphy) in
Breakfast on Pluto, can shine love and fancy into the darkest places of the world simply by remaining true to themselves. They can turn a world ravaged by war into a whimsical romantic melodrama, because it is how they insist on seeing the world and they quite unconsciously compel others to buy in.

A little pronoun clarity upfront – Kitten, although played by a male actor, Cillian Murphy, and born with male equipment, considers herself a woman, and thus will be referred to by female pronouns throughout. I’ve remarked in previous reviews that Murphy’s features are almost impossibly pretty, now we see the androgyny they point at put to charismatic use in one of the year’s most uplifting and unique films, centered around his impeccable performance.

“Patrick”, before she discovered her true identity as Patricia, was left on the doorstep of Father Bernard (Liam Neeson) in a small Irish town. Bernard has her placed in foster care; his compassion, though he won’t admit to it, is something more than charitable. She’s educated in a religious school, where she excels at seams, accessorizes her male uniform and has a habit of getting dragged to the office by her ear for scandalous and inappropriate writings.

There are whispers about her real mother (Eva Birthistle), a temporary housekeeper for Father Bernard who vanished into the teeming multitudes of London. Kitten makes a quest out of the search for this mother, one she will write luridly about as she leaves her small town behind and journeys through the U.K. of the 70’s. There’s clubbing and sex and glam bands and drugs, but there’s also the IRA and bombs, and the two mix often enough that most of the country seems to be in a state of mortal reflection, high anxiety, or total hedonism. Kitten drifts from one adventure to the next, not avoiding tragedy but somehow preserved in its wake by her own naïveté. The world is her daytime drama, and in spite of the tragedy she’s faced (or, it’s hinted, because of it) after any time talking with her you realize the fruitlessness of arguing she should see it any other way.

There’s the rockers she travels with – Irishmen dressed as Native Americans and led by Billy Hatchett (Gavin Friday). Billy is deeply smitten with her, she shares her fantasy about being stricken ill so he can carry her to the hospital and bring her flowers. Soon she’s on-stage, singing moony duets with him as his “squaw”. The rest of the band isn’t keen on this.

Or there’s Stephen Rea as Bertie, a two-bit illusionist who is captivated by Kitten’s story in a London café and drafts her into his show for a hypnosis gag. Plus, and you must imagine co-writer/director Neil Jordan enjoying this touch, Rea gets to have a conversation with Kitten that would have been very helpful to him back when he starred in The Crying Game.

And there’s more I feel best leaving you to discover; like the occupation Brendan Gleeson trains Kitten for – the last place you’d expect to see the burly Gleeson employed. Or even better, the evolution of the relationship between Kitten and the cops who arrest her as a bombing suspect, mistreat her horribly, and then…as I said, see the movie and enjoy.

What’s so delightfully consistent about the movie is that, even as the horrors of the British/Irish conflict and the depravity of the circles Kitten moves through are depicted unblinkingly, each of these hard nuts is cracked against her. One by one they realize her essential innocence, and suddenly find themselves wanting to protect her. She stands for something, something that, in her own words, is “not serious”, but in this place at this time, desperately important to those touched by it.

The challenge in personifying this gentle if saucy soul, of elevating this above a mere drag bit, couldn’t be higher, and Murphy’s performance is award-worthy. And from careful doses of fantasy effects to a dynamic period soundtrack, Jordan synchs us up with Kitten’s vibe and propels us floating through the movie. In Breakfast on Pluto, where such heartbreaking disasters occur, you will be amazed by how often you’re laughing.

This isn’t a movie “about” homosexuality – Kitten doesn’t consider herself a gay man, but a woman making do with what God gave her, and would never reflect on the politics of it all anyway. She is not a symbol or a hero, she is simply Kitten, star of a thrilling adventure in which she will overcome great hardships to find her mother and make peace with her own existence. Her story makes for one of the best films of the year.


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