The 2008 Irish film Kisses is a pleasant little surprise of a movie. Unassuming in its charm, it heightens the lyricism of youthful desire into a story of one night away from a painful reality, creating an urban fairy tale, complete with the bubbly highs and the prickly darkness that threatens to bring everything back down.
Kisses follows two kids on the brink of adolescence. Kylie (Kelly O'Neill) and Dylan (Shane Curry) live next door to one another in the housing projects on the outskirts of Dublin. It's Christmas, and both are stuck at home. Dylan's dad (Paul Roe) is a violent drinker, and Kylie fights with her sister (Stephanie Kelly) and avoids a creepy uncle (Sean McDonagh) whose monetary gifts come at too high a trade. When things get out of hand at Dylan's house, Kylie helps him escape a beating, and the two decide to run away. They head into the city with Kylie's secret money stash, blow the wad on silly clothes and candy, and go searching for Dylan's missing brother.
It's here that things get sticky again. The neighborhood gossip was that Dylan's dad killed his older brother and dumped him in the canal. The truth is, the boy just ran away, and it's been two years since they heard from him. He is no longer in the squat that he gave as his address, and the last person to see him thought he was living in a cardboard box at the riverfront. There is no one else to help the kids, and as the sun sets, the predators emerge. It's going to be a long night, and the pair only have the good luck kiss of a kindly prostitute to protect them.
Kisses is the third film from writer/director/cinematographer Lance Daly (The Good Doctor [review]), though his most recognizable credit on IMDB is probably "Kid with Harmonica" in The Commitments. For this tale of young love on the run, Daly conjures magic out of the everyday, using a child's point of view and color tricks gleaned from The Wizard of Oz to create an overnight journey that looks large in comparison to its small stars. Ice rinks become idyllic playgrounds, strip joints turn into underworld passages, and the threats mothers tell their children to scare them into being good--in this case, the Sackman, who comes and steals unruly brats from their beds at night--have real-life analogues. Even Bob Dylan might show up to spread a little good cheer around.
Staged on location on the streets of Dublin, Kisses has the appearance of a film shot on the fly, a verité exploration captured at the moment of its happening. The script is a little too structured for that illusion to hold if you look close, but the natural manner of the two first-time leads are so good, you won't spend much time worrying about it. O'Neill and Curry give completely unaffected performances, and yet never have lapses of character. They are always Kylie and Dylan, and they handle laughter, fear, and even a small trace of romance as if this whole acting thing were nothing to get too concerned about. Some of the best sequences are dialogue-free montages of them messing around, and though Daly maybe pushes the music a little hard in these scenes, he can never overpower the born charisma of his stars.
Sure, Kisses heads to some expected places, but Daly avoids putting a cherry on top. There are no guarantees made that any of what was learned overnight will hold true the following day. Still, there is hope. Maybe the magic will stay alive, maybe it will become a memory. The importance is that it happened, and their lives have already changed.
Note: If you notice that the movie goes to final credits well ahead of its indicated running time, that's because there is one last small bit hiding at the end. It comes after the credits, and even then after several frames of black screen. So, let the movie run.