Kisses

kisses kisses kisses mock poster

By Jeff Farr

Oscilloscope Pictures
 
In Lance Daly’s “Kisses,” preteens Kylie (Kelly O’Neill) and Dylan (Shane Curry) are on the run from horrors at home. The street life the kids fall into in Dublin may actually be something far worse as they soon learn than the bleak and oppressive suburban existence they left behind.
 
“Kisses,” which has been an official selection at the Locarno, Toronto, Telluride, Miami, and Seattle film festivals, and finally getting limited theatrical release, is yet another film of the hard-won lessons of youth.
 
Next-door neighbors Kylie and Dylan have human monsters thrashing about in their lives. An uncle has sexually abused Kylie, while her mother, oblivious to the fact, forces her to give him uncomfortable kisses.
 
Per the film’s title, which is one of Daly’s themes, there are kisses that give and kisses that take. And this will be one of the many life lessons the kids acquire on a dangerous journey that puts an end to whatever is left of their innocence.
 
Dylan is under the thumb of his violent, alcoholic father. The boy valiantly tries to protect his mother when his father attacks her, and Kylie helps Dylan escape the severe beating that was sure to come. She persuades him that the two should waste no time in striking out on their own for the big city and a better life.
 
The couple rush off to Dublin, hardly prepared for life on their own. Their only prospect is to somehow find Dylan’s older brother, who disappeared into the city a couple of years back, and see if he can help them.
 
The sharp black-and-white photography of the opening sequence in suburbia transitions into color as Dylan and Kylie hitch a “Huckleberry Finn”–style ride on a canal barge into town. This is an awkward tonal shift, from dour to carefree, as the two befriend the jovial barge captain, who not only entertains them with monkey impressions, but also plays harmonica and performs a cappella Bob Dylan tunes. He is the first to teach young Dylan about the “fuckin’ musical god” with whom he shares a name.
 
The incessant Dylan references that fill the film from this point on—culminating in a wince-inducing cameo by Stephen Rea as a Dylan impersonator—feel rather tired. Dylan has been overexploited in Hollywood and indie films, most notably in Todd Haynes’s “I’m Not There” (2007), in which Cate Blanchett impersonated him to an Oscar nomination.  “Kisses” leans too much on Dylan: all the Dylanism here comes off as a cutesy attempt to appeal to boomer audiences, but not a carefully conceived effort to deepen the story or its main characters.
 
In Dublin, the kids set about spending most of Kylie’s money on clothes and roller shoes. They also start their search in earnest for Dylan’s brother, meeting colorful city types, like buskers and prostitutes, along the way.
 
Predictably, Kylie and Dylan eventually have a falling out, as the missing brother does not reappear and the reality of their new situation sinks in. Each are on their own for a spell, looking for food and trying to stay safe. But of course, they must learn how much they truly need each other to make it under such adverse circumstances. They reunite and solidify their bond.
 
In the film’s scariest and best sequence, Kylie is kidnapped by a couple of pedophiles. Dylan comes to her rescue, somehow hanging onto the creeps’ speeding car while riding his roller shoes and screaming for help to passersby.
 
Overall, however, there is not much at stake in this brisk 75-minute film, which is really a short film stretched into a feature. The main drama in “Kisses” is simply how grisly Daly will let the kids’ homeless life become and how they will wind up returning home.
 
Daly’s screenplay calls for suspension of disbelief at a few key points, as when Kylie and Dylan find a well-lit outdoors ice rink in Downtown Dublin all to themselves and enjoy a prolonged dance on ice. At the same time, the screenplay sometimes tries too hard to make a point, as when Kylie somberly pronounces to Dylan, “There’s no devil, just people.” It's yet another lesson learned.
 
“Kisses” never surprises, and it never strays far from the well-trodden path of art movies on troubled youth that was started by Francois Truffaut’s masterpiece “400 Blows” five decades ago. But in comparison to a film like that, which seemed so spontaneous, “Kisses” is forced.
 
Despite many faults, there is some charm to be found in Daly’s film, which lives or dies on the quality of its young actors, and the director has discovered two strong talents in O’Neill and Curry. They keep us engaged with their genuine sweetness even when the narrative is not offering up much originality.
 
O’Neill, in particular, gives an utterly convincing and multi-nuanced performance beyond her years, in which we can clearly see the woman this girl is too quickly starting to become. Curry’s performance is a more subtle turn, perfectly appropriate to his less articulate character—a performance that O’Neill is able to play off to great effect.
 
The cinematography is sharp throughout, particularly in the black-and-white sequences that frame the film. The aforementioned ice rink scene, though hard to take in terms of credibility, is a beauty to watch.
 
Cast
 
Kylie – Kelly O’Neill
Dylan – Shane Curry
Down Under Dylan – Stephen Rea
Da Dunne – Paul Roe
Beatrice Dunne – Neilí Conroy
Dredger Caption – David Bendito
Busker – José Jimenez
Sackman – Willie Higgins
Gardiner Street Girl – Elizabeth Suh
 
Credits
 
A Oscilloscope Pictures release.
Produced by Macdara Kelleher, Lance Daly.
Executive producers, Les Kelly, Peter Garde.
Co-producers, Tomas Eskilsson, Malte Forsell
Directed, written by Lance Daly.
Editor, J. Patrick Duffner.
Music, Go Blimps Go.
Production designer, Waldimer Kalinowski.
Costume designer, Leonie Prendergast.
Sound, Rob Flanagan.
Assistant director, Owen Magee.
Casting, Nick McGinley.
 
Running time: 75 Minutes.