12/27/2005

Breakfast on Pluto

Well, my dear friend Mr. Fidget and I decided to give it another go. We went to the Kendall this time, where there were two options at the time we'd chosen: Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic, and Neil Jordan's Breakfast on Pluto. Originally, when Itchy had suggested Pluto I'd said, wouldn't you rather see Trans-America? I mean, both are transgendered affairs, and I figured the latter would be more conventional, basically a drag Fandango. The thing you want when planning a film outing with a fidget is forward momentum, and road flicks have got to have that, if nothing else, right? Plus the spectacle of Felicity Huffman playing a MtF transexual, basically a woman playing a man playing a woman, seems very compelling to me. from the trailers, Huffman is utterly convincing in the role. (Even the name Felicity Huffman seems like a drag name, doesn't it?) But Trans-America's not playing anywhere yet. So the choice was between Jesus and Pluto. And something about the latter, from the trailers I'd seen, seemed a little too arty-farty for the mood I was in, plus I was pushing hard for Jesus because I felt like the stand-up pace and lack of a plot would be the perfect antidote for the fidgets (although I didn't say it this time).

My friend seemed resistant to the Jesus is Magic plan, from the get-go. We were still bickering about it when we got to the ticket counter, where a sort of surly-looking art-film Asian-American asked us what it would be. My friend told him of our quandary, and he had no hesitation. He said, sorta snide-like: "Sarah Silverman is not funny. She belongs to the 'airline food' brand of stand-up from the '90s--she's just not cutting edge." Well, hmph. I bet he wouldn't say that to Sarah Silverman's face.

I was like, ooh, so we look "cutting edge" to you? I mean, for this punk--he was probably in his teens in the nineties, and it seems like a million years ago, but it was only yesterday to me and Itchy. What's wrong with the '90s, anyway? Weren't they the '60s standing on its head, or something? Didn't we have a hipper President then? Wasn't the blowjob the handshake of the '90s? Who could sneer at that? There's nothing naughty about the noughties. It's all terrorism and tax cuts for the rich, and post-millennial post-apocalyptic post-traumatic stress syndrome. I mean, the handshake is the handshake of the noughties. Cutting edge my hairy arse.

And what the hell is the "airline food school of stand-up" anyway? I'm thinking Sarah Silverman must have made some off-color jokes about Asian-Americans.

But that's really all it took to tip the scales, so it was Breakfast on Pluto. I'd still like to see Jesus is Magic, just to see if it's really all that un-PC. Have you noticed that un-PC is the new black?The poster compares her to Lenny Bruce, but we'll see about that.

Anyway, I'm not sorry we went to see Breakfast on Pluto, and the surprising thing was, Itchy didn't fidget through it. I was waiting, but it never happened. And it's not that it wasn't a fairly fidgetable film. There was definitely a fidget factor. On a fidget scale of one to ten, Pluto comes in at about a 5.5, I'd say, although there's a 3% margin of error. If it were not for the enchanting Cillian Murphy of 28 Days Later fame, the fidget factor would have gone through the roof.

First of all, rule number one: a man in a dress is at least as compelling as a woman in a dress, although in a different way, strange as it may seem. Why? We can get into that some other time. I think it's a question worth pursuing. But Cillian Murphy's Kitten is even more compelling than most men in dresses could ever hope to be. (There were times when he reminded me of Dina Martina, who had an almost unfathomably hilariously bizarre show at the Vixen in Provincetown all summer.)

The story is basically a picaresque, with Kitten's search for his birth mother framing the tale. The strength of Murphy's performance is that eventually we accept him for what he is without having to slap a label on him. The movie is not really about sex or sexuality, it does not seek to plumb the depths of why young Patrick becomes Kitten, even as it depicts Kitten seeking the answer to that question. But it's not so unusual to spend your life asking the wrong questions or seeking irrelevant answers, after all. Nor is it a waste of time. Kitten's singleminded pursuit of his birth mother leads him to a bigger truth. And that's how it is.

That's why, like Brokeback Mountain, Breakfast on Pluto is not a tale confined to the sexuality or gender identity of its protagonist. (Which is also why it's true that Brokeback Mountain is not a "gay film".) But Neil Jordan breached that old blood-brain barrier long ago. I mean, he's the one who gave us The Crying Game way back in 1992. His mixing of politics and cross-dressing makes you wonder if transvetitism or transexuality is a metaphor. I mean, is it a particularly apt metaphor for the Irish? For Ireland? I have read some interesting commentary of the book on which the movie's based suggesting that Kitten's transvestitism represents crossing borders. At any rate, it seems pretty clear that for the director, transvestitism is a handy metaphor for something.

The film is, in fact, filled to the gills with characters in "drag". Liam Neeson as a priest in his priestly skirts. Brendan Gleeson whose job at a small amusement park requires that he dress as a giant rodent (later we see him as the warden of the Tower of London). Prostitutes. Soldiers. Cops. It's all drag, isn't it? To some extent the movie--or a stream within it--is about who we are when we take off the costumes. Kitten never does, but it's at least partly because drag isn't drag for Kitten. Or at least, she doesn't hide under it. She reveals herself through it. But it would be a mistake to think of Kitten, in her movie incarnation, as a beacon of sexual freedom. The character in the book is called "Pussy," and her new, toned-down nickname in the movie fits her toned-down sexuality. It's not a movie, in the end, in which sex or sexuality is a major theme. Gender identity, yes, to some extent, and that to some extent as some sort of metaphor, but not sexuality, per se.

Whatever it all means, it's Cillian Murphy's movie, and he is an absolute joy to watch. He is able to wring emotional depth out of a character that might have been just another jock in a frock.

Recommended.
6.3 on the film snob-o-meter.
5.5 on the fidgetron.

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