Moviegoers in the ’90s developed a special kinship with drag queens. In films like The Crying Game and Paris Is Burning, the men who paraded themselves as women were garishly flamboyant and clever company, but they also became lightning rods of empathy, poignant in their pain. In their bitch-witted way, they stood in for the tough and saddened valor of anyone — everyone — who has felt, for even a moment, the cold-shoulder rejection of mainstream society.
Patrick ”Kitten” Braden (Cillian Murphy), the young Irish beauty who’s the hero/heroine of Breakfast on Pluto, is far from a full-time gender bender. Growing up in Ireland and England in the late ’60s and early ’70s, he makes few all-out attempts to hide, or fake, his sexual identity, sporting instead the look of a deliriously feminine glam-rock angel, with bushy brown Shirley Temple curls, froufy fake-fur tops, and big ripe sensual lips glossed in red. In spirit, though, he is very much a poor little drag queen — a wounded girl trapped in a boy’s body, coltish and oh-so-innocent. Murphy, an ingratiating actor, speaks in the gentlest of sing-song caresses, the words flowing out like tears. All Patrick is looking for is a man to cherish and protect him, but the world — the cruel world! — won’t cooperate.
In the course of the movie, Patrick forms tiny, flickering attachments to a great many men, from a macho Irish bar-band leader (Gavin Friday) to a posh psychopath played, with acid charisma, by Bryan Ferry to a doe-eyed magician (Stephen Rea) who makes him part of his act. But none of the liaisons last. There are many characters in Breakfast on Pluto, but there is really only Patrick, lost in his sweet perfume of isolation. He’s a romantic victim, an androgynous waif out of time. He is also, I’m afraid, a bit of a bore.
Directed by Neil Jordan, who made that apotheosis of drag-queen-as-alien-who’s-really-just-like-you movies, The Crying Game, Breakfast on Pluto is a film that presumes we’ll take one look at Patrick, with his elfin neediness and long-lashed bedroom eyes, and swoon on the spot with sympathetic understanding. In that presumption, however, Jordan lets slip virtually every rudiment of drama. He never deigns to develop his characters, he coats the movie in a wet blanket of whimsy, and he lets pop songs do his work for him more lavishly than Cameron Crowe did in Elizabethtown. Beneath the film’s monotony, one senses a whiff of cop-out, of playing it safe: Patrick, for all his tender yearnings, shows no lust, no messy ego. He’s a saddened saint in pouffy shirts, and Jordan turns his crying game into one big, long whine.