'Pluto': When Worlds Collide

Friday, December 23, 2005

Thin as Twiggy in his skintight bell-bottoms, the mascara-eyed Kitten (Cillian Murphy) pumps his fists to a glam-rock dance band in the 1970s. In this early scene from Neil Jordan's darkly whimsical "Breakfast on Pluto," we already understand the teenage Irish transvestite to be in a pitched battle with reality.

Kitten sees the singer (former punk star Gavin Friday) -- a sideburned and Indian war-painted minor celebrity known as Billy Hatchet -- as the fantasy man he'd like to keep house for. It's beside the point -- and part of that reality Kitten chooses to ignore -- that Billy's on the road all the time, has dangerous ties with the IRA and feels ambivalent about keeping a male companion.

Abandoned as a child, Kitten, real name Patrick Braden, has been looking for love, acceptance and something like a home ever since. But his habit of dressing in women's clothes, in semiconscious tribute to the glamorous mother who deserted him, has incurred dismay from local priest Father Bernard (Liam Neeson) and outrage from his stepmother, Ma Braden (Ruth McCabe). It's a hostile, heartbreaking world, Kitten concludes. "Breakfast on Pluto," whose title refers to a 1970s-era song by folk singer and street musician Don Partridge, adopts Kitten's perspective as its own. The result is a deceptively lighthearted, ironic fantasy that counterpoints Kitten's detached outlook with the harsh world he willfully avoids.

Best known for his studio-made hit, "Interview With the Vampire," Jordan has shown more passion with such personal, assured films as "Mona Lisa," "The Crying Game," "The Miracle" and "Michael Collins." Although "Pluto" has a rollicky, endearing air, it's cooler than Jordan's other films. Murphy's dewy-eyed performance as Kitten is charming, dedicated and oddly superficial. Ultimately, the film's detachment is its inspired idea and its inherent problem. We remain strangers to Kitten, looking at him from the real world from which he runs screaming. And through that dividing portal we feel pity, even empathy, but nothing like lasting warmth.

-- Desson Thomson

Breakfast on Pluto R, 129 minutes Contains sexual themes and obscenity. At Landmark's Bethesda Row and E Street Cinema and Cineplex Odeon Shirlington.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company