|Cinema Signals by Jules Brenner:|
Cross Dressing, Sex, and Gender
"Cross dressing implies different things in different cultures and has been viewed historically in widely varying ways..."
"Breakfast on Pluto"
Neil Jordan's creative world spins in two orbits. There's the one from which we get films like The Good Thief and Michael Collins; and the other that turns out transgender issues, like The Crying Game and Breakfast on Pluto, which he adapted from Patrick McCabe's novel. If that's your ticket, or if you're into fabulous fashion design, you're in for a treat. Others may find its showboating hero/heroine difficult to attach to, but a visual fascination neverthless.
As narrator, Patrick Braden (Cillian Murphy) tells how, as an infant, he was placed on a church doorstep and discovered by Father Bernard (Liam Neeson) in Tyreelin, Ireland. As a boy of 10 (Conor McEvoy) we see him being raised by a stern foster mother as he responds to his identity needs by taking to lipstick and dresses. When discovered, he insists it's perfectly normal, but the tight, proper household isn't supporting what they see as deviant behavior. As soon as he's old enough (Murphy), he leaves the safety of hearth and home to pursue his obsession with finding his true mother and the circumstances of his birth. His main clue is her blond likeliness to the then famous Mitzi Gaynor.
Identifying himself now as "Kitten," he embarks on a life of sexual opportunism, earning his living by streetwalking and splurging his income on an unending fashion-show wardrobe. Jordan thankfully doesn't show us what our boy/girl does in order to afford such tony garb but his appeal to men takes full shape in the intense relationship with Billy Hatchet (Gavin Friday), a singer with a band who houses Kitten in his tour bus and then in his remote trailer hideaway. Hatchet even adds Kitten to his stage act, clothing him as an Indian squaw while singing in adoration.
An involvement with the IRA and their hidden cache of weapons ends this episode, and Kitten's picaresque journey continues. He's hired to play a character in an amusement park with John-Joe (Brendan Gleason), he's an attraction at a peep show (where Father Bernard finds him), and he's a magician's assistant under the great Bertie (silky Stephen Rea). When Father Bernard becomes ready for a confession of his own, the lad/lass is lured off the slippery road of opportunity for a final dash of reality.
The gender adventurer is a visual fascination but a superficially defined central figure. Murphy delivers a showy, spacy performance but, until the film finally concentrates on the unwanted boy seeking acceptance, it avoids emotional depth. The always stalwart, assured Neeson provides a possible last act resurrection, but the film remains more a showcase for visual art through the exquisite photography of cinematographer Declan Quinn and the astounding wardrobe of Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh than a gem of character development.