Remember how color was used in The Wizard of Oz to represent Dorothy’s shift from humdrum farm life in Kansas to slogging through the dwarf-and-witch-infested “paradise” of Oz? And how, despite the realization of her wildest dreams, all she really wants by the film’s close is to get back home to her family? Well, strip away the Yes album-cover setpieces and replace “humdrum farm life” with “abusive shotgun-shack struggles”, and you have Lance Daly’s Kisses, a surprisingly charming tale of love, suburban escape, and the helplessness of being young. The film violently veers towards mediocrity near its end, and the greytone/color switch was immediately cliché after its use in Oz, but these things do little to ruin the emotional punch of its first two acts. Unfortunately, even at a scant 72 minute runtime, several things feel tossed in near the end as “cushion” material, unnecessarily bloating an otherwise tight character drama.
Dylan is the eleven year old son of a violent alcoholic—or maybe just a violent asshole; it’s difficult to tell as most of the father’s screentime is spent falling into a paroxysm of anger and beating his wife. The boy invokes his father’s rage by smashing a gameboy in his face, leading to a quick upstairs escape through the bathroom window via assistance from Keiley, a girl with her own set of familial troubles. Together, the two hop aboard a tiny one-man trash barge and ride it to Dublin where they hope to meet up with Dylan’s hobo brother, a man who has apparently been squatting all over Ireland’s capital since running away two years before. During their journey they come across several people who establish Bob Dylan as a recurring motif; I don’t know much about Bob Dylan—whether he traveled rivers on a trash barge or wandered homeless through the streets of the UK. Maybe he did. Or maybe the director just really liked his music and wanted to shoehorn it in through any means necessary. As a soundtrack it’s not a particularly bad choice, but the kids’ constant questions of “Who’s Bob Dylan”, “Do you know any Bob Dylan”, and “Is that Bob Dylan” feel like fodder to fluff up lazy writing. The film has enough charm to go around—for child actors, Shane Curry and Kelly O’Neill know what they’re doing—but at such a slim runtime, I have to imagine this script required some last minute beefing up, leading to lots of absurd interludes by street musicians and Australian cover bands.
Then there’s the action shift towards the end. After roughly an hour of watching Dylan and Kylie fall in love, some brick-faced Dick Tracy villain shows up and kidnaps the girl in his car, leading to one of the strangest chase and fight sequences I’ve played witness to. If you had told me there would be an action sequence in this film anytime during its first hour I wouldn’t have believed you—there’s too much time dedicated to fleshing out the characters’ relationship for some nighttime game of cat-and-mouse in an alleyway. And yet there it is, unnecessarily thrown in at the last minute (likely as a final check on some studio executive’s “To-Do List”). Don’t get me wrong, Kisses isn’t bad—it’s just uneven. You knew people like Dylan and Kylie growing up—students who dreaded going home for fear of being trapped by their family—and will love watching them overcome their pasts. The characters, their struggles, and their relationships are the work of excellent screenwriting; unfortunately, to push the runtime into a Hollywood-appropriate zone, there’s a lot of other garbage tossed in that falls flat.