Escaping grim socio-political realities through fabulousness is fast becoming its own genre â€” add Neil Jordan‘s "Breakfast on Pluto" to the pile with "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" and "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," all films about finding oneself (and refuge) in glamour, glitter and indulgent pop songs even though one’s surrounding circumstances are less than welcoming to any of these things. "Breakfast on Pluto," an amiable, poignant, but ultimately minor work from one of our favorite filmmakers, is the tale of Patrick Brady (Cillian Murphy), or "Kitten," as he soon christens himself, who was abandoned as a baby and whose fondness for trying on his adopted sister’s dresses and makeup clearly mark him as not meant for life in a small, conservative Irish town, even in the 70s. Patrick learns that his mother, once the prettiest girl in town and fabled to have born a strong resemblance to actress Mitzi Gaynor, was spotted in London, and sets on off an odyssey to find her.
Patrick often speaks about how he loves stories, and the film’s power comes from the trappings of his narration (divided into snappy picaresque chapters) and the role of tragedy-prone, ebullient heroine he assigns himself, laid over what is actually an often unhappy story of a young gay orphan thrown out of his home, subject to several violent run-ins with the IRA, taken advantage of in varied ways on the streets of London, and eventually arrested and brutally interrogated about a crime he didn’t commit. Patrick’s charm is in his gleeful refusal to engage reality (he’s often asked "Can’t you take anything seriously?", when plainly he’d have been crushed by despair long ago if he did, a point hammered in less than subtly several times), and the film takes his side, with whimsical touches like a subtitled Greek chorus of robins and visualizations of some of Patrick’s wilder fabrications, and, most prominently, a swelling and superb period soundtrack (Patrick’s particular favorite is Bobby Goldsboro‘s ridiculous "Honey").
Cillian Murphy’s unnerving presence and strikingly androgynous looks have thus far led an ever-creative Hollywood to typecast his as evil and mildly gay; here, obviously, he comes on a little stronger, but there’s a slyness to him that’s at odds with his character’s starry-eyed optimism. Indeed, after a while, one wishes there was a bit of that to Patrick â€” his much-vaunted bobble-headed coping techniques make him less endearing than, say, John Cameron Mitchell‘s gloriously embittered Hedwig, who at least knew when to tell people to sod off.
"Breakfast on Pluto" opens in limited release on November 18.