Kisses shows how much you can do with very little. Only 75 minutes long and made in Ireland for what had to be a micro budget, this sweet, savvy and heartfelt film will impact you more and stay around longer than many more elephantine productions.
The story of a Christmas Eve a pair of 11-year-old runaways spend in downtown Dublin, Kisses can sound familiar, but it really isn't. Written and directed with deftness, wit and restraint by Lance Daly, it makes magic happen on-screen when you least expect it.
Kisses is best thought of as a kind of urban fairy tale, and like all fairy tales, menace and trouble are part of the equation. Focusing on children but not for them, the film delivers a great deal by not promising too much.
Though Kisses starts on the afternoon before Christmas Eve, there is definitely no peace on Earth for the youthful protagonists and best pals who live next door to each other in a dreary housing tract on the outskirts of Dublin.
Because he has to put up with a rage machine of a father and an understandably resentful mother, Dylan (Shane Curry) has cultivated a fascination with electronic games as well as emotional distance as ways to retreat when things get too hot around him.
Kylie (Kelly O'Neill) doesn't have a father on the premises, but she has five obstreperous siblings and a weary mother. Her best defense is a good offense, an ability to be practical, assertive and somehow optimistic.
Though these kids are teased, tormented and even tortured on a regular basis, a particular combination of bad events so terrifies them about potential consequences that they make a spur-of-the-moment decision to make a break for downtown Dublin, where Dylan's older brother has been living for a couple of years.
Hitching a ride on a convenient dredger, the runaways hear for the first time about Bob Dylan, Dylan's presumed namesake — "a musical god," the dredger's captain says, though his language is a bit more colorful — and the singer-songwriter's music unexpectedly becomes one of the film's recurring motifs.
Also on that brief boat journey, what up to that point has been a film shot in delicate black and white slowly and with an almost imperceptible charm begins to change until it becomes full color once Dylan and Kylie land in downtown Dublin, all to the accompaniment of melodic music from the group Go Blimps Go.
At first, downtown seems like a bit of a wonderland to the pals as they wander through malls, do some shopping and in general seem to be having fun for the first time in their lives. Writer-director Daly and his cast are particularly expert at capturing small improvisational moments of pleasure that are especially winning.
However, given that downtown Dublin isn't exactly Disneyland, Kisses makes a few brief visits to the dark end of the street, but these end up giving the film more texture and substance without ruining the magic.
For what is lovely about this gentle fable of childhood is that it takes its cues not only from the songs of Dylan but also from the William Blake title Songs of Innocence and Experience. In a tough world, friends like Dylan and Kylie have to look out for each other. Small though it is, Kisses evokes all kinds of feelings, and that is no small thing from a film of any size.