Breakfast on Pluto

“Life can be such a drag” is one tagline that appears on the DVD case for “Breakfast on Pluto,” Neil Jordan’s 2005 pseudo-biopic about an Irish drag queen. To paraphrase that line, sometimes Neil Jordan’s films (“The Crying Game,” “In Dreams”) can be such a drag. This time around, he hit the right notes for the character, but with his usual bumps in the story along the way.

The film opens with Patrick “Kitten” Braden (Cillian Murphy) being left on a doorstep in an Irish village by his mother (Eva Birthistle), a dead ringer for Mitzi Gaynor, who then splits for London. A local woman takes him in, but Patrick realizes soon enough, with his desire to dress up in woman’s clothes and wear makeup, that he’s not like the other boys in town. He copes as best as he can, making friends with some other outcasts, but always longing to meet the woman who left him behind.

Following a revelation about his father (Liam Neeson), the local priest, he runs away, and after a brief romance with a bandleader (and gunrunner for the IRA, but more on that later), Patrick transforms himself into Kitten and heads to London; he says it’s to find his long-lost mother, but the journey instead becomes about finding himself and his place in the world. Kitten stumbles through most of London, managing to find the most unsavory and dangerous places to be at any given time, but she’s resilient and never gives up the search for wholeness.  

Murphy is startling in a rare nonpsychopath role; it’s is a one-note performance, but only because in a world slowly going to Hell, Kitten wants to be one note, a happy-go-lucky young woman in a fun and exciting world instead of an abandoned child adrift in an ocean of despair. Kitten needs the fantasy to survive, and Murphy shows both the desperation and the hope inherent in her view of the world.

I was digging the movie for quite a while, but then a subplot, IRA activity in Ireland and England, that tends to show up in Jordan’s movies reared its head and diminished my take on the film. To paraphrase my cubicle neighbor (hi John!) on “The Crying Game,” it can feel like you’re watching two different movies, and “Breakfast on Pluto” suffers from the same affliction.

Maybe for people who lived next door to terrorism for so many years, it’s not a big deal, but for this viewer, terrorism is a big deal, and in Jordan’s movies, terrorism and the IRA become a backdrop that hinders the bigger picture. It’s distracting and doesn’t serve any purpose (and really should be its own subject); isn’t the story of a drag queen in a fiercely Catholic country enough? I’m being a little unfair, mainly because I know this plot is from the book and not Jordan, but as the writer as well as director, he made that subplot meaningless.

I get down on the guy because at the end of the day, I like his writing and I love his characters, and it hurts to say that despite all the positives, I don’t like the whole movie. What a drag.

“Breakfast on Pluto” (2005)

Written and directed by Neil Jordan

Starring: Cillian Murphy (Kitten)

Liam Neeson (Father Liam)