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Breakfast on Pluto PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sheila Seacroft   
30 12 2005

Directed by Neil Jordan
ImageI've seen some Oirish whimsy on film this year, but the dollop served here by an eminent Irish director and several fine Irish actors just about takes the potato cake. Take one sweetly innocent cross-dressing foundling, add the Troubles, priestly shenanigans, a London bombing, Brendan Gleeson dressed as a womble, Soho peepshows, and, oh god, please, no... the Seventies...I feared the worst from the very beginning when a pair of computer-aided robins begin to comment on the action in an oh so cute way via subtitles. Those fears were well-founded.  I don't know whether this is a faithful rendition of Patrick McCabe's Booker-shortlisted novel, but I can't help thinking something pretty important has been lost along the way.

Patrick, soon to be known by personal request as Kitten, is found as a baby on the priest's doorstep in a small town on the Eire side of the Irish border. After a promising start as a feisty lad who wears his wicked (of course) foster mother's clothes, he turns into a winsome dreamer called Kitten (Cillian Murphy), who passes through life believing in crap song lyrics, wearing deplorable women's clothes, and emerging unscathed and unchanged by a series of melodramatic experiences.
 
Running off with a rock band, he happily gets himself set up in a caravan by the leader, and at first scarcely bats an eyelid when he discovers he's sharing his mobile home with a stash of IRA guns. They cuddle and talk twaddle under the moon, but all Kitten really wants is to find his mother, who disappeared to England after he was born. His fantasy of his conception, involving not only rape made comic,('Ooh, is it fairy liquid, Father?') but a sweet innocent colleen in effect 'asking for it' by showing her stocking tops and unthinkingly lifting her dress to shoulder level is embarrassing, not to say insulting. And it's not the only thing that is. His search for her in London, where he scrapes an existence dressing as a womble (just not funny), becomes a magician's assistant, and eventually appears to attempt to sell his body (or does he? The film is typically coy about this) takes on what should be a serious tone when he is wrongfully accused of planting a bomb and beaten up by the police. But the two bad cops suddenly turn into all-round good guys when they realise he's innocent and, tragico-comically, he is so happy in his cell (and/or womb, geddit?) that he doesn't want to leave. One of the police (Ian Hart looking ill at ease, with ears more akimbo than usual) is such a nice guy at heart that he introduces Kitten to a Soho peepshow co-operative run by tarts with hearts of gold, who take him to their well-exposed bosoms and find him a booth tout de suite. But one day a punter comes who is different from the rest...
 
The acting talent, many of them Jordan regulars, do their best. Liam Neeson is energetic as Father Bernard, another character suffering an unlikely volte-face. Stephen Rea brings in a genuine note of loneliness as the magician, and Brian Ferry turns in a performance of a quite scary authenticity as a sinister punter.  Murphy's performance has been praised and touted as possible Oscar material, but behind all the whimsy I couldn't find any real person. You could say that his childishness as exemplified in his soppy little-me voice and willingness to go along with anyone who will have him merely demonstrates his deep need for a mother figure before he can grow up into his adult self; you can say that the whimsical tone of the film is a reflection of his own damaged version of himself; you could even say that mankind cannot bear too much reality and it is whistling in a dark full of real pain - but it just didn't work for me.
 
Just imagine these proceedings ascribed to a girl with similar yearnings and docility, vanity and foolish trust, and you have a central figure who is just plain irritating. So it's only the cross dressing that makes Kitten sympathetic?  Not enough. Certainly not enough when bombings, rape, abortion, death of a 'special needs' young man are all used as props for a whimsical story which in the end seems only to confirm the worst stereotypes of what a lovable, predictable lot the Irish, and cross-dressers, are.
 
And the title? Well, it was a rather vapid song by easy-listening maestro Don Partridge about anything being possible if you want it enough. Even for the end of the 60s it was too whimsical for its own good. Just like this film.
 
Seen at Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle, December 2005

http://www.sonyclassics.com/breakfastonpluto/

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