Irish kids go on a jaunt in sensitive ‘Kisses’ 

The Irish urban ripple “Kisses” follows two preteens as they run away from horrid home conditions and spend an exhilarating few hours in Christmastime Dublin, experiencing worldly phenomena such as gummy candy and Bob Dylan impersonators, along with transcendent moments of friendship and trust.

This is a wisp of a movie — 75 minutes, punctuated by a few quirky encounters and a couple of chases that Hollywood’s speedometer would hardly register.

But effectively blending fairy-tale entertainment and social drama, and demonstrating a gift for depicting child mentalities, writer-director Lance Daly (“The Halo Effect”) has made an absorbing, affecting film.

A sort of magical social realist coming-of-age film, the drama centers on two 11-year-olds — broody Dylan (Shane Kurry) and self-assured Kylie (Kelly O’Neill) — who are next-door neighbors in a run-down housing complex, each coping with an abusive family situation.

Their journey begins when Kylie helps Dylan escape from his violent father’s rampage. The two board a barge, bound for Dublin.

Their big-city escapade includes a shopping spree funded by a wad of cash Kylie has taken from her house. The binge yields jackets, candy and roller shoes that have a near-Hermes effect on Dylan.

Also bordering on the mythic for the tweens is Dylan’s music-god namesake, who appears in several faux incarnations. (No Cate Blanchett here, but Stephen Rea has an amusing cameo as a Bob Dylan imitator.)

Wonderland darkens when the pair, looking for Dylan’s estranged older brother, land on a kid-unfriendly desolation row. A scary incident leads to a deeper connection as the two band together.

While suffering from girl-in-distress fairy-tale silliness in its otherwise efficient chase climax, and just barely pulling off Daly’s shiftings between black-and-white and color cinematography, the film transcends any “400 Blows” meets Oz triteness that its storyline may suggest.

Like Shane Meadows’ similarly themed “Somers Town” and Jafar Panahi’s “The White Balloon,” Daly’s film is a barely full-length, seemingly minor kid tale that surprises by achieving something unique and resonant.

Assisted by his open, natural and fittingly defiant-looking young leads, Daly delivers an immersing, almost entirely believable and often enchanting adventure that brims gracefully with preteen joys and trepidations.

Further bolstered by Daly’s wisdom in avoiding a too-rosy ending, the film also quietly underscores the tragedy of abused and neglected children.

The title refers to a pair of smooches: a chaste kiss that Dylan receives from a pure-hearted young woman, possibly a prostitute, and Dylan and Kylie’s first kiss.


MOVIE REVIEW

Kisses (3 stars)

Starring Shane Kurry, Kelly O’Neill, Paul Roe, Stephen Rea

Written and directed by Lance Daly

Not rated

Running time 1 hour 15 minutes

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