Kisses (Daly, 2008)

I’d never heard of Kisses.  I think.  I had a vague recollection of the DVD cover (two kids kissing), but it’s a true indie.  It’s also an annoying film.  Not in it’s plot, but in that it could be so much (so much) better than it is.

Plot: Dylan (Shane Curry)has an abusive father.  Rumor in the English town is that his father also killed his brother, Barry.  His neighbor Kylie (Kelly O’Neill) has a crush on him.  She has an abusive past of her own.

One dramatic day they decide to run away in search of Barry’s brother, a reputed bum and alcoholic, in the big city.  They encounter all types of dangers, including a personification of the mythological “Sack Man”  – a version of the boogey man.  They also run into a lot of Bob Dylan-types.

The plot is sweet and simple, and director Daly has some nice visual moments.  When Dylan jumps from his window just before he and Kylie escape, Daly’s series of shots include a high angle looking down into the alley and a low shot on the sidewalk down below with various obstructions in the foreground.  Two simple shots, cut rapidly together create a nice tension.  The camera is perfectly placed (yes, a camera can be incorrectly placed), and the shots have energy.

Daly’s visual strategy here is to start in black and white, gradually fade up the colors and saturation as the children escape, and then when they return fade it back down.  It’s tired and boring.  And telegraphed.  You see it a mile away.  Now, to Daly’s credit, he does basically tell us his plan in the first shot of the movie, which fades color to black and white, but it feels amateur-ish, and hits the whole narrative of “harsh reality at home vs. fantasy, but dangerous, land outside” too hard on the head.  The plot carries it and the technique feels straight from film school.

The worst part of this film – and a part that actually ruined it for me – is the soundtrack.  It’s unbelievably sappy.  It’s also boring.  It’s also overused.  It’s also laughable.  One of the worst uses of music I’ve ever seen/heard in a film.  There’s too much mickey-mousing, too much general imitation, and far, far too much music replacing visual and narrative emotional content.  It’s like Daly wasn’t sure that his film was strong enough so threw in an overdone score/soundtrack to compensate.  And it really doesn’t work.  When Dylan and Kylie finally kiss (spoiler?) the drum hits and overwrought guitar made me cringe.  My finger hovered over the fast-forward.

There is good.  The kids’ performances are awesome.  The rub that they never find Dylan’s brother, though they find many “substitute” brothers, is a nice little twist.  The guy that plays the Sack Man (Willie Higgins) has an incredible voice, and his movements are eerie and creepy.  That moment of the film, music notwithstanding, is quite good.  The small things – sharing moments of joy, sleeping on cardboard boxes, an accidental run in with a prostitute – are very nice and heartfelt.

Unfortunately, Daly kind of shoots himself in the foot.  His artistic sensibility feels muddled.  He’s got an eye and a feel for actors, but he doesn’t seem to really know what he wants (ie music comments) and I can’t really get a feel for anything visually beyond “let’s try to make this pretty and see if that does the trick.”  By that I mean, there’s nothing added (visuals notwithstanding) from his camera placement or other set design, etc.

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About dcpfilm

Shooting, teaching, writing and watching the Phillies.
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