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Film Review Archive


Breakfast on Pluto
Reviewed by Carla Freccero
Review Date: 1

Breakfast on Pluto is directed by The Crying Game's Neil Jordan, and it bears some resemblances to that movie. It takes place in Ireland and then England with the backdrop of the war that wreaks havoc on the lives of a group of marginals who alternately drift through and confront their situation. It focuses on the story and life of a transvestite whose appeal is irresistible--Cillian Murphy as Patrick "Kitten" Braden-and who is also a kind of tragic figure, a foster child in search of his biological mother.

The movie does a lot with some of the quirkier vintage tunes one can remember, and includes as well several singers in its cast, among them punk rocker Patrick Friday, and Roxy Music's Bryan Ferry in a particularly sinister role. Actors like Liam Neeson (as Father Bernard) and Stephen Rea (as Bertie) have roles to play as well. Everything about the film is constructed very self-consciously, but ultimately it's hard to tell whether this movie, based on a novel by Patrick McCabe, works. It's long: 2 1/2 hours, and its flamboyantly apolitical stance is irksome to say the least, even if it can ultimately be understood as a pacifist plea.

Here's the story: Patrick is left on the parish priest's doorstep in a north/south partition town in Ireland. He grows up fantasizing about his mother, his cross-dressing a kind of melancholic identification with her, fashioned after camp icon Mitzi Gaynor. He has friends, but their character development is insufficient to make us care until they re-appear toward the end of his picaresque adventures. Anyway, after growing up berated and punished for his cross-dressing ways, he leaves for London in search of his birth mother, where he has a series of adventures, many of them having to do with music, that brings him into contact with various older men, all of whom want something from this beautiful and seemingly infinitely vulnerable boy. One critic called this an Irish Forrest Gump, and in some ways that's right, except that Patrick has a sexual knowingness that we learn nothing about-the film is very coy about sex-but that spices this movie up in comparison to the decidedly asexual adventures of the decidedly asexual Tom Hanks.

There's something incredibly compelling about Murphy as Patrick; he manages a perfect combination of knowingness and innocence, vulnerability and street smarts, sexiness and childlike need. He carries this film and in a sense it's a showcase for his acting. The only problem is that he's very hard to understand-the high pitch and near whispering of his voice, combined with the accent, make his words barely discernible to our United Statesian ears. The film also compellingly and cleverly documents the trajectory from optimism to toughened cynicism undergone by the innocent when exposed to the harsher things in life. At the same time, Breakfast on Pluto manages to revive a sense of joy and optimism, albeit through some of the oldest most tired clichés in the book. There are also carefully crafted parallels and narrative and visual returns, such as Patrick's whispered secrets to the priest in the confessional and the priest's whispered secrets to Patrick in the peep show booth.

And though maybe its beautiful parts do not add up to a complete and satisfyingly successful whole, it's a thoughtful and well acted movie artfully done. Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.