Release Date:  March 26, 2010 (limited); July 30, 2010 (select cities)
Rating:  NR (but multiple cautions are noted below)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time:  72 min.
Director:  Lance Daly
Actors:  Shane Curry, Kelly O'Neill, Paul Roe, Neili Conroy, David Bendito, Elizabeth Fuh, Cathy Malone, Jose Jimanez, Willie Higgins, Sean McDonagh, Stephanie Kelly

For anyone who might be fooled by the film's decidedly smoochy title, Kisses definitely won't be your new favorite romantic comedy.

If anything, Kisses introduces audiences to the seedier side of Ireland, not its lushly green, positively picturesque counterpart where Amy Adams' character fell in love earlier this year in Leap Year. Artfully made, but gritty and unsettling at its very core, Kisses is ultimately an intriguing study of contradictions.

Showing just how much can get accomplished with so little (perhaps, a relevant reminder for Hollywood execs who've been serving up so many flicks with unnecessarily long running times?), Kisses may only clock in at a mere hour and 12 minutes. But the story? Yeah, it will stick with you long after the credits have rolled.

Though many independent films favor an equally bleak canvas for telling such a sad story, Kisses is striking and beautifully conceived thanks to gorgeous black-and-white photography and an enchanting score, even when the storyline turns dark and dangerous.

While admittedly a fictional account, you immediately have a sneaking suspicion that the storyline in Kisses is rooted in something entirely real, something that happens way too often in grim places like these. Set in Ireland's projects, Kisses is told from the perspective of two precocious pre-teen protagonists who happen to live next door to each other, Dylan (Shane Curry) and Kylie (newcomer Kelly O'Neill, who bears a strong resemblance to a young Drew Barrymore).

If the crumbling structures they call home weren't evidence enough that life isn't exactly going swimmingly for Dylan and Kylie, a glimpse inside their respective front doors confirms it. Not only does Dylan not have many friends at school, but his alcoholic father who doesn't even realize it's his son's Christmas break often abuses his mother and Dylan himself.

Turning to his little handheld computer game for a diversion, Dylan's dad is sick of the sounds it makes and lashes out at Dylan and his mom when she defends him. Before things get really ugly, Dylan steps in and ends up walloping his dad in the head (and bursting the family home's pipes). Feeling like he's got no other option, Dylan follows in his older brother's footsteps and runs away from home just before Christmas.

Meanwhile, when Kylie gets wind that something's not right (again) at Dylan's, she decides to join him in flying the coop as well. Armed with a stash of Euros her sexually abusive uncle gave her and the hope that Dylan's brother can help them both by letting them stay at the flat where he's a squatter, she and Dylan believe that a better life simply lies in a new part of town.

While things get off to a fairly decent start with an adventure-filled impromptu boat ride into town and an afternoon of extravagant retail therapy, the scene quickly turns dangerous as the duo roams the streets. With no money, housing or food to eat, they resort to begging, stealing and setting up a makeshift home (a cardboard box nestled in the freezing alley) for their survival.

As for the movie's happy-go-lucky title, well, the inspiration comes from an equally unlikely source, namely a brief encounter that Dylan has with a lady who trades her body for money. She explains how with kisses, you either give or you take, emphasizing how it's more important to give than receive. And that's something that Dylan learns the true value of when he and Kylie are briefly separated, and he ends up saving her from being kidnapped and brutally assaulted.

Interestingly enough, Bob Dylan's music (not to mention a frontman from one of his many tribute bands) makes a cameo in the film, which adds a nice slice of pop music nostalgia to the proceedings. And really, no song is more fitting than Dylan's "Shelter from the Storm" when considering Kylie and Dylan's friendship and unique situation.