A coming-of-age drama so Irish you'll want to take out your Pogues' lyric sheets beforehand to brush up on Gaelic mumbling, Kisses is the story of two ragamuffins who run away to Dublin during the Christmas season.
It isn't much of a holiday at home. Dylan's da is beating up ma. And Kylie is hiding from a leering uncle, quaking under the bed when she finds her holiday fare - a shoe some criminal relative has stuffed with ill-gotten dough.
So off the 11-year-olds go, jumping a dredge captained by a spry, laughing pied piper. As their boat tugs down the River Liffey, the young mariner tells the kids all about Dylan's musical namesake, singing Shelter from the Storm.
Arriving in Dublin, the film turns from black and white to colour - shades of Wizard of Oz. Soon, Dylan and Kylie meet Mr. Tambourine Man, a street busker in a suit of lights who performs Bob Dylan's Just Like a Woman and Subterranean Homesick Blues.
The kids aren't in Dublin for the Wizards of Hibbing or Oz, however. They're looking for deliverance - real shelter from the storm - in the form of Dylan's older brother. Barry hated his father, hated home, too. Maybe Dylan and Kylie will be able to move in (and live in colour!) with him, leaving behind their black-and-white suburban hell forever.
Kisses is clever and alive with pop-culture motifs. On a shopping spree, Kylie buys sneakers with wheels, allowing her to glide through Dublin - and remind us of Dorothy's magic ruby slippers. And Stephen Rea ( The Crying Game) shows up as a Bob Dylan impersonator. The young lead even looks a little like the famous folk singer did, when he arrived in Greenwich Village with a too-thin jacket and eyes wide with wonder.
Dylan and Kylie are on an epic, dangerous journey; that's the film's theme. Don't follow leaders and watch the parking meters. But Kisses doesn't always work. Young Irish filmmaker Lance Daly, just 34, writes with a heavy hand at times.
The early scenes between the kids and their miserable, rotten guardians seem hurried and almost comically absurd. As if every adult on Dylan's street was related to Harry Potter's horrid stepparents, Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia. And even when we get to Dublin, the plot feels forced. The film is 76 minutes long, short for a feature. Daly would have been wise to let his big dramatic scenes breathe a little bit more.
Still, the filmmaker has a wonderful way with his players and coaxes graceful, winning performances out of his leads. We never catch young, non-professional actors Kelly O'Neill and Shane Curry acting. They just look to be running through Dublin, their eyes wide open, amazed by life.
O'Neill is the real standout here. Her Kylie stays with us. Like the brown-eyed, laughing and a-running Irish girl Van Morrison made famous. We leave the theatre hoping to see and hear her again.
- Written and directed by Lance Daly
- Starring Kelly O'Neill, Shane Curry, Paul Roe and Stephen Rea
- Classification: NA
Kisses opens Thursday for a limited run at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
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