By Karen Butler
When his plans to make an Irish racecar picture crashed and burned a few years ago, Dublin writer-director Lance Daly decided to scale back a bit and work on something smaller and more character-driven. The result was his celebrated, bittersweet film "Kisses," which is in U.S. theaters now.
"I was trying to make an Irish racecar movie, which wasn't something anybody really understood. I was trying to do that for a while and that was a bigger budget thing and I got to a point where I decided to go back to doing what I knew, which was something a little more independent and a little more local. [That's] what I did on my first two films," Daly told the Irish Echo in a recent phone interview, referring to his other films, "Last Days in Dublin" and "The Halo Effect."
"[With 'Kisses'] I started thinking about finding the smallest story possible and then tried to make it as a big and cinematic as possible," he added.
In the movie, Shane Curry and Kelly O'Neill play Dylan and Kylie, tween-aged next-door neighbors who flee bleak home lives in search of a night filled with adventure and freedom in Dublin. "Kisses," which was shot in both black and white and color, won Daly the best director prize at the 2009 IFTAs where it was up for seven awards. It has also been a favorite on the global film festival circuit.
"I was kind of driving around Dublin, thinking about the story, and I happened to have a Bob Dylan record playing in the car," Daly recalled. "It was stuck in the tape player and played all the time for a few days. I think it was bringing it all back home . . . And I was thinking about road movies and how we can't do a road movie in Ireland because it's an American genre that you run away into the frontier, into nature and escape into the wild. But you can't really do that where we're from, because it's such a small place. You'd end up chasing your own tail or you end up escaping into your own history."
The filmmaker said he worked hard to balance the tone of "Kisses" so its various moments of heartbreak and peril don't overshadow the sheer joy Dylan and Kylie feel when they are on their own and experiencing the thrill of freedom, or the humor some of their predicaments present.
"It's a bit of a tightrope act, actually," Daly acknowledged. "When we were trying to get financing, people were saying, 'It's a film about kids, but it's not for kids.' So, it seemed like it was a hard one to make work then for an audience, so it was always about the balance.
"People were wondering how an audience was going to come away feeling OK because when you look at it on paper it's a story of two kids and the terrible lives they lead and then they run away and it just seems like it's one trauma after another. And I was always saying, 'No, you'll see, there's a payoff!' But nobody believed me . . . It feels like a miracle happens, but really it's just all everyday stuff. It seems to cross the divide between being an art-house film and being something an audience responds to, which makes it sort of commercial."
Daly is excited to see his latest movie finally released in U.S. theaters.
"It's nice that it's finally coming out here," Daly said. "We were screening at festivals for awhile and I think America got a chance to see how people react to it here and it took a little while to do it because we didn't have sub-titles on it and some people struggle a little bit with the Irish accent, the thick brogue. But that's all sorted out here now. We put in a few little clues here and there to keep people on track and I think audiences really respond to it. They seem to get very emotional toward the end, so it's all good."