Cillian Murphy stars a young trans-woman who leaves Ireland in the 1970s to find her birth mother in London. Along the way, she has flings with a singer (Gavin Friday) and a comic magician (Stephen Rea), rough encounters with the IRA and London police, and an unexpected reconciliation with her birth father. Breakfast on Pluto reunites director Neil Jordan with material involving sexuality and the IRA, which he explored to more critical acclaim in The Crying Game.
Jordan and novelist Pat McCabe present harrowing political upheaval and social prejudice with a shrug and a laugh, as embodied in the indomitable spirit of Murphy’s character, Patrick ‘Kitten’ Braden. At times, I found the tone fun or even enchanting — especially when Kitten strikes up her relationship with Stephen Rea’s magician character and helps him perform his stage shows. But the amount of heavy drama that heaps itself upon Kitten’s shoulders require a healthy suspension of disbelief. At one point she’s standing in her own grave begging two IRA rebels to shoot her, and in another she’s fleeing a home caught on fire by bigots. At no time does Kitten ever get angry or upset. She never gives up. She doesn’t seem quite real.
I enjoyed the adventure angle of the story, and the relationships Kitten has with not just lovers but friends and professionals. Liam Neeson plays the priest who found her as a baby on his doorstep and has a compelling subplot in which he finds his own way to love her. Kitten also has three childhood friends — social rejects in one way or another — with whom she develops bonds that last into adulthood. And the most striking relationship might be between Kitten and a London cop who goes from beating Kitten bloody to helping her find a job and making sure she’s safe.
What holds me back from liking Breakfast on Pluto more fully is Cillian Murphy’s performance. He speaks in a high, soft voice as many trans-women do, but he seems to have difficulty acting through the artifice. It undermines any attempts to appear distraught, angry, or concerned. The writing also hinders Murphy by not allowing us to ever see the raw humanity underneath the character’s strong veneer. I think even a brief moment in which we think Kitten might possibly throw in the towel would have added a powerful emotional wallop to the movie.