Page to Screen: Breakfast on Pluto (2005)

Breakfast on Pluto
based on the novel by Patrick McCabe

How on earth have I not reviewed Breakfast on Pluto for the blog yet? It’s one of my very favorite films and one of the few film adaptations that actually surpasses the novel it’s based on—the fact that Patrick McCabe was one of the script writers undoubtedly helps. At the end of last semester, I spent quite a lot of time with Breakfast on Pluto, as I was writing my final paper for the class about how it illuminated the intersection between gender issues and Irish national identity. It pretty much ended up a love letter to Kitten, her refusal to let others impose narratives on her life, and her own mastery of narrative. But how could I not? She’s amazing.

Breakfast on Pluto is the life story of Patricia “Kitten” Braden, born the illegitimate son of the local priest and a housekeeper who promptly fled to London. Irrepressible throughout her childhood in 1960s Ireland, Kitten sets off on her own in search of her mother when she comes of age, fascinated by her mother’s legendary beauty (she apparently looked like Mitzi Gaynor) and her disappearance, all the while combating those who read her as a violent Irishman. It’s a wild ride through the Irish Troubles with our flippant heroine as she ultimately finds her place in the world.

The film is superior to the novel in the way it treats Kitten; I have a theory McCabe couldn’t pass up the chance to improve her life over the lonely Pussy we leave in the novel. And in that simple change, the narrative changes. Kitten’s story becomes an interesting study in identity if she ultimately finds a place where she fits in and contributes. However, the film does leave to the imagination Kitten’s love life—while she does hook up with Billy Hatchett, a rock star and IRA gun smuggler, as soon as she manages to leave her home town, she’s barely shown kissing her various beaus. It’s a shame, because one of Kitten’s greatest virtues is her capacity to love, and she’s certainly not asexual (as much as I would love to claim her). But it’s tighter, more cohesive, and, most importantly, boasts Cillian Murphy as Kitten.

I can’t remember where I heard this, but I think Murphy was pulling for Jordan to make this film before he was too old to play Kitten as a young woman. Despite his immense beauty, it might be hard to imagine Murphy playing a transwoman, but he carries it off wonderfully. Kitten feels more like a person than a character, with her dry, loopy wit, elegance under fire, and breathy voice. And the rest of the cast pulls through; Liam Neeson as Kitten’s father (and Father!) is good in a very small role, affable and kind, Ruth Negga as Kitten’s sharp, wide-eyed best friend is just lovely, just to name a brief few. Despite the focus on identity, the plot remains episodic, as Kitten wanders from situation to situation—once literally wandering into a job by taking shelter in a little elven shack on Wimbledon Park. (This, of course, doesn’t phase Kitten one bit.) But it works, knitted together by Kitten’s narration and the unendingly groovy soundtrack.

This might make Breakfast on Pluto sound whimsical and cheerful, which it certainly is, but it’s also pretty dark. Kitten is forced to turn to prostitution late in the film and almost gets murdered by a John, IRA violence punctuates the film as the main political force Kitten struggles against and mocks, and there’s a heaping helping of police brutality. Kitten herself is well aware that her life could be pitiable, but she tells stories (especially about her mother and herself) to ward that off. And that, I think, is why my film class made me love this film so much more than I already did; it went deep into the film and found Kitten’s special power of rejecting narratives and creating her own. I already loved it because Kitten was so relentlessly upbeat in the face of all the darkness and violence around her, but I found this immensely powerful. I have this very strange thing when I watch films sometimes; I’ll identity so closely with a character that I’ll briefly forget what my face feels like and imagine their features instead. This hadn’t happened for a few years, but it definitely happened when I walked out of our screening of Breakfast on Pluto. You’ve just got to meet Kitten, people, that’s all there is to it.

Bottom line: How else can I put it? You’ve just got to meet Kitten, an elegant, dry, and loopy transwoman in search of her mother during the Irish Troubles, who gets treated much better here than the novel from which she originates. Breakfast on Pluto is a fine, fine film.

You can read my review of the novel here.

I bought this DVD.