Short, sweet and full of unexpected moments, the rough-and-tumble little Irish film Kisses is a surprise and a treat: a no-frills story of young love in which the subject is never discussed and the two central characters barely even acknowledge their feelings for each other.
Rather, this dramatic comedy, which opens in limited theatrical release and video-on-demand on Friday (7/16/10), is about the inner life of kids -- with all the innocence, sense of daring and vulnerability that implies. In this case, the kids in question live together in a housing project, next-door neighbors, aware (but not fully understanding) just how rough the other one has it.
Dylan (Shane Curry) is a kid with no friends except next-door pal Kylie (Kelly O'Neill) and a father with a tendency to hit first and talk after. Kylie also has a down-at-the-heels existence, dodging the unwanted affections of her mother's latest boyfriend, while listening to the yelling coming from Dylan's flat.
Things reach a crescendo one day when Dylan stands up to his bullying father, hitting him in the head with a thrown object before bolting into the bathroom and locking the door behind him. Even as his father rages and tries to smash through the door, Kylie comes to the rescue from outdoors: She drags a ladder to the bathroom window and helps Dylan escape. The pair run off, convinced that they'll never come back.
Their only goal is to find Dylan's older brother, who has disappeared on the mean streets of Dublin. Their flimsy plan involves finding him and living with him. But first they have to track him down.
They catch a ride on a canal barge, then begin roaming the streets of Dublin. Kylie has stolen a wad of money from her mother and so she serves as benefactor for the pair, at one point buying them matching pairs of those sneakers with the roller-skate wheels that pop in and out.
Their adventures take them in and out of harm's way, as their bond tightens. Along the way, they learn a thing or two about Bob Dylan and even have a near-encounter with the great man. They eventually wind up rescuing each other and creating something between them that neither will probably ever be articulate enough to talk about.
Director Lance Daly keeps things simple and straightforward. His one stylistic flourish involves starting the film in black and white, then gradually infusing the image with color (once the kids make their break) until the image is fully hued -- only to drop them back to monochrome when they eventually return home. The dialogue isn't clever or lavish; indeed, the dialect these kids speak is so thick that, thankfully, the film has been subtitled, even though it's ostensibly in English.
Daly draws natural, unmannered performances from his two young actors. Curry has a deadpan mug and stoic presence, capturing the sense of a kid who, at a young age, has taken his share of abuse. O'Neill, by contrast, is something of a chatterbox, more in touch with her feelings and more than willing to spell out what she's thinking at any given moment. She's wonderfully blunt, in an amusingly obscene way.
Kisses is compelling and amusing, breathtaking at times in its ability to put these kids in harm's way and slip them out of it with imagination and nerve. It's one of those small gems that vanish too quickly from theaters. Find it before it disappears.