The protagonist here is a doe-eyed, rail-thin Irish-Catholic lad named Patrick Braden (Cillian Murphy, the survivor of doomsday in 28 Days Later), a foundling who was left in a basket on a country doorstep. He's a florid transvestite who calls himself "Saint Kitten" and worships the old Hollywood starlet Mitzi Gaynor. Most of the world sees him as a freak, and his foster family dismisses him as an embarrassment. Still, he surges onward through the force of his own will, surviving the 1960s and making his way into the disco era.
Voltaire cooked up obstacles aplenty for his hero conscription into the Bulgarian army, the Inquisition, even an earthquake in Portugal. Jordan, working from a novel by Patrick McCabe, does no less for Kitten, who is anything but a mere victim. At home, the boy drives his foster mother to distraction with his carefully applied mascara and his selection of frocks. At school, he infuriates the priests with an essay stuffed with pornographic wish-fulfillment. He's thrown out of a Saturday-night dance for wearing a dress. On the road with a seedy rock band called Billy Hatchete and the Mohawks, Patrick takes to the stage dressed like Pocahontas and gets pelted with rotten vegetables. At an Irish Republican Army rally, he loudly demands pink sunglasses, then petulantly dumps a cache of IRA weapons into a fishing pond. All this before he even crosses the Irish Sea to swinging London to find real trouble in the great city's back alleys and fleshpots.
The cartoonish elements of Kitten Braden's odyssey the girlish posing, the campy bitching might attract the same huge audiences who couldn't resist Jordan's surprise hit The Crying Game, with its pivotal gender-switch shocker. But Pluto actually bears more resemblance to the filmmaker's less heralded 1997 feature The Butcher Boy, in which another emotionally unbalanced young man was driven to act out his (murderous) fantasies. Like Pluto, that film, was adapted from a novel by McCabe, who obviously shares Jordan's fascination with misfits and outsiders.
The unresolved traumas of Kitten's childhood tag along to London, and there, too, he must face down tormentors and bigots, using his characteristic grace and wit. In the meantime, he assembles a bizarre résumé oversized mouse at a kiddie park; assistant to a magician named Bertie (Jordan regular Stephen Rea) who cuts him in half and zings knives past his head; vulnerable male prostitute; peep-show attraction. All the while, he is also searching for his biological mother, a quest that's rudely interrupted when a terrorist bomb explodes in the nightclub where he's sipping a Campari and soda and the British police accuse him of the crime.
Not even that can dim his enthusiasm. When the authorities finally try to release him, he refuses to go: "I just want to belong," he pleads. The bigots are the grotesques of the piece, not Patrick.
Murphy's energetic, multifaceted, sometimes exhausting performance commands our attention, but he shares the screen with some heavyweights Rea, Brendan Gleeson and, in the slyly crucial role of a country priest, Liam Neeson. At 129 minutes, Breakfast on Pluto runs a bit long, but Neil Jordan's gift for Irish tragicomedy, by way of Voltaire's fable, wins the day.