Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, In Dreams) directs this typical “road movie” with a protagonist that happens to be a transvestite in Breakfast on Pluto. Based on the novel by Pat McCabe, the film takes the traditional routes to end up at the obligatory happy ending and leave you with the feeling that you just wasted two hours. This past year, American audiences witnessed a sexual revolution within film. Brokeback Mountain received high acclaim for its depiction of a romantic homosexual relationship, and Transamerica continued the trend with its tale of a pre-operative transsexual who discovers that she had fathered a son who is now a troubled teenager. Here, we have yet another transgender hero(ine) in Neil Jordan’s Breakfast on Pluto. Unfortunately, the film is more of a parody of a transsexual’s search for identity rather than a film that attempts to give us a better understanding of the personal, transsexual experience.
All of the clichés are there from the very beginning: the abandonment by the mother, which drives young Patrick Braden (soon to be Patricia Kitten) to emulate his mother by wearing his foster mother’s dress, shoes and lipstick; the repression of the Catholic Church that only encourages his behavior through punishment; and finally, the failed father figure in Catholic priest, Father Bernard, is painfully more literal than metaphorical. All of these factors drive Patricia in search of her (his) mother, who he thinks is the one person that will understand him, despite the fact that she abandoned him. Patricia floats between a small Ireland town and a London that is smack dab in the middle of a sexual and political revolution. Set in between the 1960's and 1970's, Jordan tries to add a layer to the film with violence provoked by militant political activists. Unfortunately for Jordan, this dynamic only slows the pace of the film and often causes the movie to lose its focus. In a nutshell, Breakfast on Pluto is your typical “road movie” where a character sets out to find something or someone and ends up finding himself. The only difference from the usual here is that the main character in this road movie is a transvestite.
Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins, 28 Days Later) does a horrible Mrs. Doubtfire impression as he prances around as the whimsical, flamboyant Patricia Kitten. With very little respect for the character, Patricia’s inner struggle is never addressed. There is however, an unbearably literal scene where Patricia is hypnotized by a magician and clearly confuses his mother with a rather stout, bald man. This is perhaps the film’s only attempt at presenting Patricia as a character torn by gender and pain. Although Jordan might be more at fault for his adaptation of Pat McCabe’s novel, Murphy is completely unbelievable as a transvestite. Is the audience truly supposed to believe that this is a man who is driven to live as a woman rather than dressing up like one for comical reasons ala the 1980’s sitcom Bosom Buddies? I think not.
To add injury to insult, the film’s aesthetics are as embarrassing as its characters. For the first five minutes, we are forced to listen to dialogue recited by two computer-generated birds, and it’s all down hill from there. The handheld camera, numbered chapter captions and compact streets of Ireland and London give the film that “indie-euro” feel that was done to death about ten years ago by Guy Ritchie and Danny Boyle. The film predictably plods through its two hour and 15 minute running time, which will having you asking yourself, “why am I watching this” after about an hour.
Despite that Liam Neeson gives a fine performance as Father Bernard and Jordan's attempt to add some depth to the film with a distracting revolution sub-plot, Breakfast on Pluto is an insult. In a time when other films seek to portray people with different gender ideas as real people with emotional conflicts, Breakfast on Pluto sets us back ten years, as it presents the caricature of a transsexual, rather than a character. This release is sub par by today’s DVD standards. The video transfer is presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen and that is perhaps the best part of this package. It is crisp and clean with vibrant colors and stark blacks. The audio is presented only in 5.1 Dolby Digital surround and it fails to impress. But, this isn’t the type of film that is supposed to blow you away with its presentation. Given the characters' thick Irish and English accents and an unstable sound mix, I found the dialogue difficult to understand at times. Instead of playing the role of a remote jockey, turning the sound up during dialogue and down when the music came on, I remedied the problem with the English subtitles, which are also available in French, Spanish, Portuguese and closed captions.
As for the rest of the disc, be prepared for disappointment if you were looking forward to this release. The only worthwhile supplement is the feature length audio commentary by director Neil Jordan and star Cillian Murphy. The commentary has some insight into the filmmaking and a couple humorous anecdotes, if you can understand what these two are saying. While outstanding commentaries help the viewer appreciate the film, this commentary is just to pass the time.
Also included is the “Behind The Scenes of Breakfast on Pluto” featurette, which runs around nine minutes and feels like it was made for a press kit. There are some interviews with the cast and crew, on set footage and very little reason to waste your time watching it.
Rounding out this lack luster package is a boatload of previews, but not one for the film in question. I’m never quite sure why studios include trailers for films other than the one you are about to watch. But, I suppose if you liked this movie, Sony has provided you with a slew of other recommendations.
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