They aimed for Ziggy Stardust. We got the Lucky Charms leprechaun.
Neil Jordan’s latest exploration of androgyny (territory he previously, and beautifully, dealt with in 1993’s The Crying Game) strives to be a glittery coming-of-age revelry, following a gender-bending ingenue named Patrick ”Kitten” Braden (Cillian Murphy) as he searches for his long-lost mother during the days of glam rock and IRA violence. But for all its flair, Breakfast on Pluto’s fantastical front is too forced, if not offensive. Indeed, Kitten comes off like a cartoon character — without any charms.
Jordan, whose past credits also include End of the Affair and Interview With the Vampire, surely boasts an incomparable talent for crafting majestic and devastating tales of love lost. But when he doesn’t stick to solemn storytelling, he struggles. (It’s fitting that Breakfast on Pluto is based on a book by Patrick McCabe, who also supplied the source for Jordan’s other silly coming-of-ager, The Butcher Boy.)
Subverting seriousness is central to Breakfast on Pluto, as Kitten scoffs at a friend who’s joined paramilitary forces: ”Oh, serious, serious, serious!” Optimism is one thing, but the cheekiness Kitten sustains while bombs tear bodies and relationships apart is nearly sociopathic. (That said, Kitten does briefly shed tears when a mentally handicapped boy is blown to bits — in slo-mo, no less — in a display of movie manipulativeness at its most grotesque.) In interviews, cast and crew discuss how Kitten constitutes ”eyes and ears and truth for the audience” as the Troubles shake Ireland and England. Meanwhile, on the DVD’s commentary, Jordan and Murphy dryly champion Kitten, or, as they persist in calling him, ”the character.” (It’s curious how distant and detached the director and star sound when discussing a movie supposedly beaming with such vitality.) But it seems that the truth we get from ”the character” is that decades of hate and violence can be happily overcome through some rockin’ tunes, bubbly sex fantasies, and a fab fedora. (Detractors of Life Is Beautiful’s arguably flip dealing of the Holocaust should especially stay away.)
Comparisons of Pluto and The Crying Game, both focused on a drifter in drag, are inevitable. But on the commentary the director distinguishes the two films, saying he didn’t want Pluto to be ”too, you know, arch.” Crying Game’s twist ending aside, there’s little archness to that haunting meditation on love and gender. However, while Breakfast on Pluto doesn’t play tricks about its hero’s sexuality, the film does come off as a bit mischievous — to ill effect. Blame that pesky leprechaun.