Irish film director Lance Daly is making his name with The Good Doctor, his forthcoming new feature with Hollywood A-lister Orlando Bloom. But on July 16 his film Kisses, a definite crowd pleaser set in Dublin, will open and introduce the new Irish director to America.
Where can you run where there’s nowhere left to run? That’s the tough question that Irish film director Lance Daly’s hard hitting new film Kisses (set in present day Dublin) asks.
The surprise is that the two people asking it are 11-year-old runaways, Kylie and Dylan, a pair of next-door neighbors who make a secret pact to escape to the big city together.
Opening in New York on July 16, the new Irish film introduces us to tough girl Kylie, who lives with her five younger siblings and her overworked mother in a tiny house next door to loner Dylan.
Dylan, it turns out, has problems of his own, growing up with an abusive father and the painful and persistent memory of his runaway brother. Inevitably these two plucky kids hatch a plan to find him, making their way toward the big smoke with the hope of finding new lives for themselves, too.
It’s a heartrending premise and Daly, 34, delivers on it handsomely without lapsing into sentimentality.
“The idea for it came to me while driving around the featured parts of Dublin listening to Bob Dylan’s Bringing it All Back Home and remembering thoughts of running away as a kid,” Daly told the press.
For Daly and for the two characters who populate his urban fairy tale, the music of Dylan represents everything the two kids are in search of -- freedom, fun and a more authentic life, even though they can’t put that quest into words just yet.
“It doesn't hurt that we refer to Bob Dylan as a folk and musical god twice in the film, I think it's very respectful of his legacy. That’s why his people gave us the rights to his songs,” says Daly.
Every frame in Kisses is seen through the wonderstruck eyes of two impressionable kids, so the city street lamps shine like carnival lights and everything that’s encountered is fresh and new. At night, magic and terror lurk behind every street corner of inner city Dublin.
The film itself began its journey in Galway at the Galway Arts Festival, where it won the best Irish film award outright. By the time it screened at the Toronto Film Festival, Focus Features came on board to handle international sales. It was a remarkable ascent for a debut Irish feature film, and Daly was picked to helm a major Hollywood feature on the strength of it.
In Kisses Daly makes terrific use of lighting and subtle camera work to pull the best possible performances out of his young stars. That kind of talent can’t be faked and it helps to give the film its gritty realistic quality.
Like his two young actors Shane Curry and Kelly O’Neill, Daly was born and educated in Dublin where he spent time as an actor, a musician, a photographer and editor before finally making the leap into films, a role he had aspired to since his childhood.
As often happen in show business, Daly’s success looks like it came overnight, but in fact it has been years in the making. In 1999 he wrote and directed his first feature film, Last Days in Dublin, on a shoestring budget with additional scenes filmed in Paris, New York and Cairo.
The film, a rollicking adventure yarn featuring unlikely appearances by Irish Senator David Norris as a grumpy landlord and Irish writer Nell McCafferty as a gang boss, recalled genre busters like Trainspotting and Snatch when it went on a limited but successful release in Ireland in 2002.
With its skilled direction and its sense of place, Last Days in Dublin was a terrific curtain raiser for Daly’s work to come. It also indicated his faith in his own talent; Daly ended the film ****30,000 in debt but he still launched into his next film project straight away.
Following Last Days, Daly shot his second film The Halo Effect in 2002 starring Stephen Rea (who also stars in Kisses) and Simon Delaney. The film was likeable but a creative misfire, failing to capitalize on its own premise.
Set in a late night fast food joint, it was based on an idea Daly had while actually working in the industry to finance his first film. Ultimately, though, it failed to create the buzz he was looking for to advance his career.
It took Kisses to do that. The film represents a deepening of Daly’s talent, with its darker themes and thoughtful treatment. It also packs an emotional wallop that steals up on you, the result of a tightly written script and meticulous direction.
One of the toughest hurdles the film faced turned out to be casting. The lead actors were found through auditions of thousands of young hopefuls.
“We went to schools all over Dublin and saw thousands of kids,” says Daly. “We picked the worst behaved of them and made a shortlist, then brought them in for one very long and painful Saturday where we got them to read script and chat to us and generally strut their stuff.”
Daly still shivers when he recalls the grueling shoot, working through the nights during a freezing cold Dublin winter with the two very young and often very cold and fed up leads, Curry and O’Neill, grousing about the hours and the conditions.
“The film was a nightmare to make but it turned out nicely in the end. Kelly always stood out as very beautiful and very smart, but when I realized how quick a learner she was that clinched it. She had an immediate intuitive understanding of what acting is,” says Daly.
“Shane was much more enigmatic and, like any good leading man, it took a little while for him to reveal how quick witted and charming he really was. I remember we thought he was like a Dublin River Phoenix. And he was the only one who wouldn't allow Kelly to tell him what to do, because he's a streetwise character, so they were a good match.”
Getting international distribution is one of the most difficult elements of movie making, and it’s a major vote of confidence in a film whenever it occurs. Kisses was picked up by Focus Features, one of the most important independent studios in the world, after the Toronto Film Festival, where it wowed critics and audiences alike, and so the emerging Irish director felt like he’d crossed a crucial career milestone.
Sure enough new proposals flooded in with stars attached to them. But the one that most caught Daly’s attention was The Good Doctor, an Alfred Hitchcock-like thriller about a frustrated doctor who’s desperately eager to impress his colleagues.
When a young female patient gives him all the praise and attention he’s been craving, Orlando Bloom’s unscrupulous doctor messes around with her treatment so she has to spend more time in the hospital with him. It’s a shocking premise, and the word is that Bloom is sensational in the role.
Adds Daly, “Each day Bloom’s doctor keeps the girl just sick enough to leave her in his care. They form a close bond, but events spiral out of control. Soon he has no choice but to cover his tracks by any means necessary...” That’s the kind of high stakes set up Daly excels at.
Kisses opens in New York and Los Angles on July 16.