Breakfast On Pluto's protagonist (Cillian Murphy) didn't need to be born into a strife-torn Irish border town to learn about trouble. The son of a priest (Liam Neeson) who doesn't acknowledge him and a Mitzi Gaynor look-alike mom who left for London years ago, he suffers through a school that doesn't understand why he has to decorate his uniform with embroidered flowers, and endures a conservative atmosphere that won't let him into the local dances. (Particularly when he shows up in makeup, accompanied by one black friend and another with Down's syndrome.) Factor in that the Troubles up North have begun to boil over in the heat of the '70s, and it's all far removed from the glamorous life he'd like to live. But he's got a pretty good idea how to change that: by example.
Adapted from Patrick McCabe's picaresque novel, Neil Jordan's film follows Murphy from his punishment-intensive schoolboy days to his cross-dressing apotheosis as an unconventional family man. Along the way, Murphy takes up with a low-rent glam-rock outfit (fronted by Gavin Friday), gets a job as a costumed performer at a rundown amusement park alongside belligerent drunk Brendan Gleeson, assists a magician (Stephen Rea) touring the saddest clubs on the London-to-Brighton circuit, and gets arrested by a good-cop/bad-cop team (Steven Waddington and Ian Hart) who eventually turn out to both be good cops. Or maybe they just become good cops. Murphy's character has that effect on people.
Much of Breakfast On Pluto finds Jordan on familiar ground. Not only has he adapted McCabe before, with the remarkable The Butcher Boy, he's combined sexual ambiguity with Irish politics for The Crying Game and explored the sexual underworld of London with Mona Lisa. And though he directs with admirable skill, his usual touches don't drive the film—which occasionally threatens to lose its shape, in spite of the neat chapter divisions—so much as Murphy does, with his sometimes-nonsensical narration and the back-to-back pop songs that feed his fevered imagination. With his unmistakably masculine features, Murphy can't disappear into the role on looks alone, but that doesn't really get in his way. His character is constructed from the glamour and operatic emotions found in the junkier corners of pop culture. He's a kind of holy idiot whose take on the political problems of the day is that it's all entirely too "serious." Jordan's film watches as that seriousness translates into dead bodies and blown-apart discos, quietly raising the question of whether Murphy's commitment to frivolity might not be such a bad idea.