Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan has plenty of experience blending the weird and whimsical with the serious and bittersweet, but he misses the mark with Breakfast on Pluto, an awkward take on the Irish "troubles," gender roles and the meaning of family. It's a lot to tackle in one film, and Jordan ends up cramming in far more than he can explore, even in more than two hours. Pluto is based on a novel by Patrick McCabe and retains its rambling, David Copperfield-esque novelistic structure, largely to the film's detriment.
Broken into bite-size chapters, Pluto is a bildungsroman about Patrick Braden (Murphy), the illegitimate son of a priest and a housekeeper who is raised by a foster family in a small Irish town in the 1960s. From early childhood, Patrick is clearly different: He dresses in girls' clothes, has crushes on local boys and engages in elaborate fantasies about the whereabouts of his biological mother.
By the time Patrick is a teen, he's rechristened himself "Kitten" and set off on the first of many adventures, which will see him become a rock groupie, magician's assistant, costumed theme-park performer and peep-show star. He also periodically comes face to face with the consequences of terrorism in his native land, as two of his childhood friends get more and more involved in IRA activity.
Jordan contrasts Patrick's sunny optimism with the deadly political strife going on around him, presenting him as a Candide-like figure who stumbles into significant events. But it's not clear what the relationship between Patrick's own struggle to find his real parents and come to terms with his sexual identity and the country's struggle to reconcile its Protestant and Catholic populations is meant to be, nor how one informs the other.
While Murphy makes for a surprisingly fetching female, his character's perpetual perkiness is more annoying than endearing, and despite his quixotic journey through significant events both personal and political, Patrick never acquires much emotional depth. It's strange, too, given the frank sexuality of Jordan's landmark The Crying Game, that Patrick comes off as nearly asexual, all sidelong glances and coquettish smiles and nary a hint of the desires for which he's shunned by most of his hometown. Like the film, he's too shy to reveal anything meaningful.