The two best films of Irish director Neil Jordan are his gender-bending 1992 hit “The Crying Game” and 1998's little-seen “The Butcher Boy,” a haunting look at a young boy–obviously unbalanced by a life marked by the loss of both his parents–who retreats into a fantasy world in an ultimately tragic effort to come to terms with the mundane everyday world. In his latest effort, “Breakfast on Pluto,” Jordan seems to have combined the two into a strangely compelling film that takes its lead character–a cross-dressing young man named Kitten (Cillian Murphy–on an extended journey through the 1970's (mostly to discover the whereabouts of the mother that gave him up for adoption as an infant) that is filled with so many cruel and tragic situations that it is astonishing to seem him confronting them all with a never-flagging sense of self-confidence and high energy.One of the brilliant things about the film is that the story doesn’t revolve around Kitten gradually learning to get to know himself and accept who he is–he is serenely confident as to his own identity from the moment that we first see him and never wavers from that even though being a cross-dressing Catholic in Ireland and England is hardly the easiest way to go through life. Whether being stuck in a drab and horrid foster home as a young man, being used, abused and occasionally loved by a series of oddball characters (including Stephen Rea as a morose hypnotist, Gavin Friday as a weirdo glam rocker and Liam Neeson as a local priest who knows more about Kitten’s past than he is letting on) or discovering the secrets of his real family while eventually forming one of his own, he faces every pitfall and danger with good cheer, indefatigable spirits and a fabulous wardrobe.
The danger of a film like “Breakfast on Pluto” is that by taking a character who refuses to take anything seriously and placing him in incredibly serious situations (besides the missing-mom subplot, there are IRA bombings, cruel lovers and random acts of brutality on display), you run the risk of trivializing everything to the point where it is impossible for viewers to give a damn about what happens. Here, you most certainly give a damn and that is mostly due to the electrifying lead performance by Cillian Murphy in a turn decidedly different from his work in “Batman Begins” and “Red-Eye.” Some may find his flip attitude to be jarring at first but Kitten’s charm soon begins to shine through and Murphy even finds a way to bring darker, sadder shadings to the character without abandoning his optimistic spirit.A fast and funny kaleidoscope of a film, “Breakfast at Pluto” has “Midnight Movie” written all over it (with its cheerfully flamboyant tone and visual style, glam-rock soundtrack and appearances by the likes of Friday and Bryan Ferry, how could it not?)but there is nothing in this hugely entertaining work that couldn’t be appreciated during more conventional hours as well.