Breakfast on Pluto, greatly expanded from its source novel by Pat McCabe and Neil Jordan, follows the fortunes of Patrick ‘Kitten Braden, an emergent transvestite growing up in the border counties in the 1970s. Kitten is the abandoned child of the local priest and a glamorous cleaning woman thought to resemble 50s star Mitzi Gaynor. In her journey of self-discovery Kitten encounters a cast of characters whose flamboyant dress and outlandish identity frequently mirror her own: glam showband singer Billy Hatchet (Gavin Friday), womble and judge impersonator John-Joe (Brendan Gleeson), cabaret magician Bertie (Stephen Rea), and mustachioed copper PC Wallis (Ian Hart). Each character in the ensemble cast is perfectly judged and played to perfection.
When discussing Breakfast on Pluto Neil Jordan has frequently likened Kitten to Candide, as she is an innocent abroad in a dangerous world. An equally apt literary comparison would be with Don Quixote, a man who invents a fantastic identity for himself in the midst of a mundane (if dangerous) society. Kittens persona is a soft-focus reverie, constructed from the sentimental love songs, silver screen glitz, and romantic fiction that surround her. The glamour and enhanced emotion of showbusiness supplement, and ultimately supplant, the grim reality of a small borderland town. Although Kitten is aware that she is living in ‘the real world, she preserves her ingenuousness in the face of mounting adversity. Like Quixote, people warm to Kitten, and many prefer her vision of reality to that which they previously accepted.
As Neil Jordans most ‘Irish production for many years, Breakfast on Pluto presents situations common to the received notion of an ‘Irish film and diverts them in delightfully unexpected directions. The audience grows uneasy as it sees Kitten sail into over-familiar waters – a paramilitary execution, a brutal police interrogation, even an unexpected pregnancy – but her character is such that these hackneyed situations are revitalised and transformed into something quite refreshing. The films satirical reflection on its genre, and its protracted use of popular music, share a sense of playfulness with operetta: familiar tunes (ranging from rebel songs to Händel) are used as a clever commentary on the action, they also work as a lampoon of Hollywoods reliance on music to create emotion.
It could be argued that Breakfast on Pluto presents a conflict between the personal and the political, and as such shares a great deal of ground with Puigs novel and Babencos film Kiss of the Spider Woman . But Kittens struggle to retain her individuality in the face of those who would have her take things – especially politics – ‘seriously, does not drive her to solipsism. Kitten is not selfish; she has her own ideas of whats important and, as she gains experience, grows more devoted to the people who are important to her.
For all of its merits, Pat McCabes Breakfast on Pluto is not an easy book to like. By fleshing the book out beyond its original boundaries, Neil Jordan has created a work that is genuinely redemptive without saccharine emotion or false sentiment. A lot can be said about Breakfast on Pluto, and its open to a range of interpretations; its hilarious, tragic, and brimful of standout performances, but it also has serious questions to pose about what deserves to be taken ‘seriously.