Thursday, March 13, 2008

If I wasn't a transvestite terrorist, would you marry me?



But as Oscar Wilde said, "I love to talk about nothing. It's the only thing I know anything about."


Watching a film in which the main role is a man, who by all rights looks sexier in his pantyhose and dress than I feel on any given day, has got to be twice as aggravating for the men drawn in to the life of "Kitty" Braden. It is only the character's theatrics and cartoonish voice that prevent one from forgetting that "Breakfast On Pluto" is in all actuality the biography of PATRICK "kitty" Braden. That and because they continually remind you that Cillian Murphy is in drag. And gay. And a man who likes men who wears womens clothing. You picked up on that right? He's a puffer. But so damn cute.

Transvestite films are hardly a new genre. Made famous by Ed Wood with "Glen and Glenda" and routinely toyed with every so often by an over-masculinated actor who wants to prove their mettle in the industry, as per Wesley Snipes. Yup- look it up bitches. Wes wore a dress. More often than not a man in drag is a source of comedy, from the poorly done attempts of Jack Lemon and Tony Curtis in "Some Like it Hot" to the more convincing but pointedly reminded comedy of Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams in "Tootsie" and "Mrs. Doubtfire", respectively. Hey, ugly and old women count too.

So how is the story of an abandoned Irish boy growing up in 1960's Ireland different than what we've seen before? Because its true? So was "Before Night Falls" and Johnny Depp worked those heels...and hid things in his ass--not literally, of course, this is acting after all. Perhaps it is the whimsical nature of the story, which borders on fantasy? I'd have to say Tim Curry's turn in garters and heels in "Rocky Horror Picture Show" DEFINITELY qualifies as Fantasy.

OK, get to the point.

The point is, this is no "boy wears girl's clothing for your amusement" movie. This film carries off a true story of a transgender foundling that elevates you out of the depression of the sheer depravity of it all by enveloping its viewers in Patrick "Kitty" Braden's personal fantasy. She views her life in such a manner as to maintain some brevity. Most people who are abandoned, raised in a staunch religious atmosphere in a morally unforgiving society, beaten, raped, threated at gun point by terrorists, tortured by police, alienated within society for being a freak, and reduced to working in sex-clubs where your PRIEST father eventually finds you...would probably have added a coat of hemoglobin paint to their bathroom walls fairly early on. But "Kitty" manages to keep a positive perspective through an imagination so active one must admit it borders on a complete detachment from reality and would likely, TODAY, be medicated with Risperdal or Zyprexa.

Patrick "Kitten" Braden: Oh serious, serious, serious!

I feel that trying to give a synopsis of this film would leave you all over-laden with details because there is simply no way to do the film justice without indulging in Kitty's fantasies, and there is a level of subtlety to the character that glistens like a faint sheen of sweat that one can either write off as the dewiness of Kitty's beauty or can acknowledge as the fruits of Cillian Murphy's gloriously hard work. You see...even I'm talking like Kitty now. It's infectious.

Before I sing the glories of all the actors in this film I want to lodge one complaint, because no review of mine is complete without one tiny bitch-session. I feel Neil Jordan in his roles as writer and director took a certain quality of edginess away from Patrick Braden. In Pat McCabe's book of the same title, Patrick's chosen moniker is actually "Pussy". That, I assure you is not the least of the softening done to the language and events. While the Forrest Gump of Winston Groom's same titled book was a foul-mouthed, violent, unlikable figure carefully transformed into the adorably, lovable, and far more palatable dim-wit of Eric Roth's Screenplay - I do not feel there was any need to 'Socialize' Pussy into Kitty. In fact, I think more people might have been able to identify with Patrick Braden were his chosen persona not SO saccharine sweet.

Case in point: Patrick holds out for a week of police interrogation with beatings, starvation and sleep deprivation. He's a tough person. He's solid and a surviver beneath his make-up and lace and I think there is a strength to be admired in that, one that is diminished and diluted by the rest of the story which paints him as a "kitten"....a defenseless, adorable animal pawing for attention- rather than a "Pussy" which is more self-sufficient, can kill to survive and knows YOU want IT.

The film, though well-acted, well-directed and save for my above complaint, well-written, does fall on the border of being a chick flick. While at no point does it attempt to move its audience to tears - unless, God save you, you are REALLY sappy - Patrick's brief stint with the IRA is just that, brief. You see guns, they flash guns, and there is a bombing. The story is otherwise introspective as a "coming-of-age tale", although by no means is it cliche. I cannot recall any sex scenes, though I'm not often one to keep count.

Kitty: And the other thing about the Phantom Lady was, Bert, she realized, in the city that never sleeps...
Bertie: What did she realize, Kitten?
Kitty: That all the songs she'd listened to, all the love songs, that they were only songs.
Bertie: What's wrong with that?
Kitty: Nothing, if you don't believe in them. But she did, you see. She believed in enchanted evenings, and she believed that a small cloud passed overhead and cried down on a flower bed, and she even believed there was breakfast to be had...
Bertie: Where?
Kitty: On Pluto. The mysterious, icy wastes of Pluto.

Cillian Murphy, as I said, takes a nice turn as Kitty, evolving the role into a figure that transcends gender in such a fashion that he nearly seems to define his own, unique sex. The actor, as you recall, first found fame with the incredibly awesome Anti-Zombie Zombie Flick "28 Days Later." He appeared again with regrown hair in "Batman Begins" as "The Scarecrow." Both films were huge successes for damn good reason, and Cillian was no small part of that reason. Yes, yes....Blood-vomitting zombies, Christian Bale and a huge ass tank definitely were a much bigger part...but Cillian helped at least a little. He followed those with "Red Eye", which I've not seen but it's by Wes Craven. You simply do not doubt Wes Craven. End of story.

Liam Neeson plays a somber-eyed priest (not that most of his roles since Schindler's List HAVEN'T been somber-eyed), and he carries the role with the expected amount of dignity and barely contained internal conflict. If within the first half-hour you've not figured out that he is Patrick's father then you are too dense to be watching a film that requires even half a frontal lobe to enjoy. Here's a crayon. Go draw on the wall.

Other actors of note make appearances such as the Father character from "28 Days Later", actor Brendan Gleeson, who makes a lively appearance as a costumed character from a theme park. He quickly teaches Patrick the silly song and dance needed to get him a job as one of the characters as well then takes him to a pub to get him drunk. After all, when you dance for children all day, what the fuck else do you want after work but a pint?

Waving at us from yet another transvestite film is Stephen Rea, not undeservingly infamous for "The Crying Game." No, no, he wasn't the transvestite, but he seems to have an on-screen desire for them. This certainly says nothing about Mr. Rea's personal preferences, only that he, unlike many actors, is not squeamish when it comes to on-screen inner-gender smooching. He plays a rather maudlin fellow quite smitten with Kitty who only borders on pedophilic creepiness.

A delightful surprise is the very brief role of "Mr. Silky String", a sexual predator who Kitty narrowly escapes. This nearly Cameo role was played by Bryan Ferry. Oh the kiddies are scratching their heads. Okay...age indication it is. Bryan Ferry was famous as the founder and front man for Roxy Music, a hot synthesizer-crazy band of the 1970's and 80's. Brian Eno (famous now as a record producer) and several other musicians drifted through the ranks of Roxy Music, Bryan Ferry went on to do a solo career and a few stints with Alphaville (another 80's band) and now has a healthy career as a lyricist and songwriter of the occasional music soundtrack, although, ironically, he doesn't appear on this one. Although the scene is nary there, he plays a serial killer well and adds the necessary drama to the film.

So if a story about an Irish transvestite who defies all odds to establish their identity during the political chaos of the 60's and 70's, that fantasizes about taking down a terrorist cell with a bottle of perfume and stiletto heels, and is stalked by finches with sassy attitudes who argue over Mitzi Gaynor isn't quite your thing, I get it. The film, too, doesn't seem sure of itself. But I would urge you to give it a try, have a few laughs at this darkly funny biography, and walk away saying "I had breakfast on Pluto."

Kitty: Not many people can take the tale of Patrick Braden, aka St. Kitten, who strutted the catwalks, face lit by a halo of flashbulbs as "oh!" she shrieks, "I told you, from my best side darlings."