Two Irish pre-teens get in trouble with their abusive families and runaway to the big city in “Kisses,” a cute but not always successful film from director Lance Daly.
Dylan (Shane Curry) lives with a drunk, unemployed dad and a mom struggling to make ends meet. We first see the father yelling death threats at a toaster, and that’s the mood we see him in for most of the opening sequence. No wonder Dylan pines to curl up under headphones to the comfort of his Gameboy. Next door, Kylie (Kelly O’Neill) suffers spoken abuse from her sister, is made to walk her infant sister around in a pram and hide from her creepy uncle.
So after an instigating incident where Dylan hits his raging father and Kylie helps him escape from an upstairs window (smashing said window in the process), the two set out with a roll of cash from Kylie’s room and the clothes on their back.
As they catch a lift up the Liffey on a small dredger, the black and white film slowly turns into color, and once they hit the high street of Dublin — in the middle of Christmas holidays no less — the blues, purples and pinks of the city swirl about our eyes.
With this little nod to “Wizard of Oz” and an earlier talk about monsters, it’s clear that Daly wants “Kisses” to staple a sort of fairy tale quality to the kids’ adventures. The two spend a magical time in a gleaming shopping center, buying “wheelie” shoes that will come in handy later, then go looking for Dylan’s older brother who also left home two years ago.
“Kisses” has two charming leads in Curry and O’Neill, both of whom simultaneously project vulnerability and toughness. Curry especially has the guarded look of somebody who doesn’t trust any signs of affection, while O’Neill sets about trying to crack his façade. They’re made for each other, at least while they’re still at home.
Daly goes for lightness and magic, but because the opening scenes of homelife feel grim and relentless instead of gothic, “Kisses” has a hard time switching gears for the journey. People are helpful and friendly, there’s a hooker with a heart of gold who gives a strained speech about giving and receiving kisses — hence the title — and even Bob Dylan (a Stetson-wearing Stephen Rea) pops in for a helpful tip. (This leads to one of the movie’s funniest lines: “Bob Dylan just gave us a beer!”)
And the talk of a monster leads to a frightening moment for the two in a back alley with a dangerous man, but it’s scenes like this one that find “Kisses” neither here nor there, too whimsical to feel dangerous, to unnerving to feel like a “fairy tale.”
And then what of the ending? It’s no spoiler to say that Dylan and Kylie will return home wiser and more mature. But no doubt the violence from fathers, uncles and mothers will continue apace. And there’s no happily-ever-after until those two can leave home for good.
Starring: Shane Curry and Kelly O’Neill
Length: 74 minutes
No rating, but contains language and adult situations
Playing at: Plaza de Oro