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BREAKFAST ON PLUTO (director/writer: Neil Jordan; screenwriter: from the novel by Pat McCabe; cinematographer: Declan Quinn; editor: Tony Lawson; music: Anna Jordan; cast: Liam Neeson (Father Liam), Cillian Murphy (Patrick (Patricia) ‘Kitten’ Braden), Ruth Negga (Charlie), Laurence Kinlan (Irwin), Seamus Reilly (Laurence), Stephen Rea (Bertie), Brendan Gleeson (John-Joe), Eva Birthistle (Eily Bergin); Runtime: 129; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Alan Maloney/Neil Jordan/Stephen Wooley; Sony Pictures Classics; 2005-Ireland/UK)
“Moderately entertaining fare.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director-writer Neil Jordan (“The Crying Game”/”The Butcher Boy”) adapts the whimsical fable Breakfast on Pluto from a 1998 novel by Pat McCabe. It tells of a baby, Patrick Braden, left on the doorstep of the Catholic church in Tyreelin, Ireland, near the border of Northern Ireland, in 1958 and rescued by Father Bernard (Liam Neeson), who finds a foster home for the lad with pub owner Ma Braden (Ruth McCabe) and her daughter. By ten the lad learns he’s an orphan and starts an obsessive quest to find his real mother rumored to look like Mitzy Gaynor and living in London; he also prefers being called Kitten and starts dressing up as a woman, looking good in an assortment of frilly frocks, which infuriates his foster mom when she discovers him dressed in his stepsister’s best outfit and wearing her lipstick. As a teen, he plays with a band of outsiders; while at school he’s mocked for being different. From one of the band member’s dad, he learns his mom’s name is Eily Bergin, and from then on sets his sights on venturing to London.

The film consists of a number of episodes in Kitten’s life, as Jordan uses these teasers to mix camp with an earnest exploration of the political (the ongoing conflict between the Brits and the IRA, as the lad becomes unwittingly involved with the IRA) and social upheaval of the times (the changing sexual attitudes). But the sway from fun to seriousness never quite smoothly jells, though it’s moderately entertaining fare. Kitten’s need for a mother’s love, to dress in drag and to find mum above all else, gets buried in too many episodic adventures to be taken seriously as it goes off on a number of unaffecting surreal journeys. It’s all kept upbeat by a lively vintage-pop sound track and an engaging tour de force performance by Murphy, who delivers the film’s best line “Oh serious, serious, serious!” with the right mixture of camp and mock earnestness. The likable lad after a number of misadventures survives to fit into the 1970s Swinging London scene as a transvestite cabaret performer. Stephen Rea plays Bertie, a second-rate magician who takes a shine to Kitten and they become lovers. Brendan Gleeson puts in a stint as an irate fair worker who wears an animal costume and gives Kitten a job.

Unfortunately, the film never gives any purpose to Kitten’s strut on the feminine side other than to draw a few yuks and some cutesy Kittens who purr. This gender-bender lacks an edginess and a dramatic tension (the lad always knew his identity and the story becomes only a matter of whether he could survive as a transvestite), fails to create a proper mood to take in all it dishes out and disappoints further by its flashy look at its subject but inability to get intimate with him. I walked away less pleased from this venture than I did from the similar themed The Crying Game.

The title comes from a 1970s song by Don Partridge.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”