When Patrick Braden (Cillian Murphy) was a baby, he was left on the steps of the village's priest (Liam Neeson), his parents unknown, except that everyone had a pretty good idea that the priest was the father and his housekeeper was the mother. As he grew up, the only thing that Patrick knew about her was that she looked like the musical star Mitzi Gaynor, and he made it his life's work to track her down. Before that, however, he had some growing up to do, and marked himself out as a misfit who liked to dress in his adoptive mother's clothes: for some reason, Patrick tended to rub certain people up the wrong way...
Based on Patrick McCabe's novel, Breakfast on Pluto was one of director Neil Jordan's Irish films, made when he wasn't gallivanting around Hollywood and apparently with more to say about his background than the likes of The Brave One or In Dreams. He certainly displayed a keener sense of place in this particular effort, with its witty sketching of small town Ireland in the sixties and seventies, although he didn't stay there as Patrick moves to London as part of his search. Divided into thirty-six brief chapters, the story follows the main character now naming himself Kitten, and examines his inability to take anything as seriously as those around him try to force him to do.
Well, he does take one thing seriously, and that's his absent mother, but even that isn't going to make him man up and have a good hard look at his life and the way he is living it. If it were not for his quest you get the impression that he would still be wandering around as much as he does, only with even less sense of purpose than he already has, and in truth the meandering narrative was probably more successful on the page than it is as a film, with characters popping up only to be disposed off ten minutes later, and the ones who do appear more than once or twice tend to be outshone by the glare of Kitten's personality. This is where Murphy makes the film his own, with his fluttering eyelashes and breathy voice somehow not quite rendering the whole enterprise as outright camp.
That in spite of tussles with both sides of the Northern Irish Troubles, as not only does he get into problems with the I.R.A. when he flings a stash of their weapons into a lake in a fit of pique (well, a bomb had killed one of his childhood friends), but also gets arrested by the London police who think the explosion set off to kill British soldiers in a nightclub was planted by him. He approaches these violent men in exactly the same way, not quite laughing in their faces, but nevertheless undercutting their aggression with humour and fey reactions, all this in spite of the threat of injury or death. You can see why Kitten would incense so many people, but also his point that the best way to confront his life's harsher truths is not to let them get to him: "Why so serious?" could be his catchphrase.
As if giving in to Kitten's outlook, there are some very funny moments in Breakfast on Pluto, especially when Brendan Gleeson shows up as a perpetually enraged children's entertainer, dressed up as a Womble and barking out The Wombling Song as he gets Kitten a job in the theme park he works in. But there are just as many parts which you worry for Patrick's safety as he barely seems able to look after himself: the society he is in is not as forgiving as he is, so Bryan Ferry shows up as a kerb crawler who almost succeeds in killing him off for good. But Kitten is more resilient than he appears, as summed up by the sequences where he endures being Stephen Rea's magician's assistant and emerges beaming from every predicament he is placed in. Only at the end does he allow himself to shed a tear when he finally encounters his mother, but in a film that is too long, you may have lost interest as you begin to urge them to get on with it and besides, his search for identity isn't a narrative success when he already has his personality set in stone. Music by Anna Jordan, along with a multitude of seventies hits.