What’s New, Pussycat?:
A Review of Breakfast on Pluto

by Tony Phillips

Conflate Irish political strife and gender identity expression once, shame on me; conflate Irish political strife and gender identity expression twice, shame on Neil Jordan. Whatever your take on the “surprise” contained in the director’s Oscar-winning, 1992 film The Crying Game, at least it unleashed the legendary, Harley-riding monster Jaye Davidson on Hollywood for a spell. Not so Breakfast on Pluto, with its publicist-approved star turn by the suddenly ubiquitous Cillian Murphy, who follows in the footsteps of Gael Garcia Bernal and dons a dress as if showy transvestitism were step #15 in the secret PMK playbook for overnight sensations.

We first meet Murphy walking down the street in post-swinging, mid-70’s London pushing a pram in full-on drag to the catcalling delight of a neighborhood construction site. Before the credits are even done rolling, we’re treated to two talking robins and Liam Neeson in a clerical collar, as if to announce that Breakfast on Pluto looks smashing, but isn’t a film terribly grounded in reality. Likewise its central figure, Patrick Braden, who abhors anything too “serious.” The orphan’s quest for his absentee mother leads him to abandon his brutal foster family and strict Catholic schooling and adopt the moniker “Kitten” before hitting the rouge and the road and turning the film into a bent Wizard of Oz wherein Dorothy turns tricks with all those accompanying her down the yellow brick road.

Kitten’s search for “The Phantom Lady,” with nothing more to go on than Mitzi Gaynor as a description for dear old mom, takes him to London, but along the way he is taken in by a secession of men. Gavin Friday, front man of the legendary Dublin punk band The Irish Prunes, welcomes Kitten to his traveling band Billy Rock and the Mohawks. Kitten soon finds himself installed in both the band and a seaside trailer park, homemaking in Billy’s ramshackle trailer by day and aping Cher in her Indian “Half-Breed” regalia by night. When Kitten uncovers an IRA arms stash while perkily tiding up his new home, the guns receive the ultimate Kitten rebuke: “Oh, serious, serious, serious!”

After a childhood chum — Down Syndrome, natch — is killed by an IRA bomb, Kitten returns from the funeral and promptly disposes of Billy Rock’s arsenal in the sea, which leads to a tense encounter that ends with Kitten on his knees and a gun to his head before being dismissed as “not worth the bullet.” His domestic idle with Billy ruptured, Kitten again hits the highway and winds up in a rundown, children’s’ theme park in London playing a Womble in furry attire. A night out drinking with his new fuzzy friends ends this stop on his quest when Kitten stumbles on a hooker turf war. The suave musician Bryan Ferry whisks Kitten away in his Mercedes, but the rescue doesn’t last long as Ferry attempts to strangle Kitten with a silk cord while getting a blow job behind the wheel. Even though this encounter will replace “dying in my sleep” as many viewers’ preferred way to go, Kitten isn’t quite ready to throw in the towel just yet and sprays Chanel Number 5 in her attacker’s eyes to escape.

Dizzy yet? We haven’t even gotten to Kitten’s involvement with low-rent, lounge entertainer Stephen Rea and his turn as magician’s assistant, the near-Oedipal run-in with Father Liam Neeson in a seedy, London peep show and the central set piece that effortlessly combines disco and terrorism. The film, like Kitten himself, suffers from an ethereal lack of direction. And while its more than two-hour running time clocks in as epic, its approach is more episodic, even going so far as to borrow chapter titles — all 36 of them — from Patrick McCabe’s source novel. The problem is, without much more to sustain it than the hither dither wanderings of its lead, set to bubblegum pop hits of the time, there’s not much grounding this picture. This breakfast is so light it’s practically continental.