Life being a teenager certainly isn’t always easy. Lorenzo is just out of foster care and living with new parents. He’s openly and visibly gay, and in his head he’s a star in the making. However, on his first day at school he’s rudely shown that irrespective of his fantasies, the other students dislike difference and there will be no place for him in their cliques.
Blu is also subject to the school’s normativity, having been ostracised by her classmates and labelled a slut after it was discovered she had an orgy with her boyfriend, Gio, and three of his friends. She and Lorenzo quickly start to bond, finding common ground in their outsider status, and also manage to drawn in the quiet and shy Antonio.
Antonio may be a star basketball player, but he’s picked on by his teammates, who love to call him ‘dumb’ and ‘retard’. He’s also acutely conscious of living in the shadow of his popular older brother, who died in an accident, although this may be more pressure he heaps on himself than the reality of what those around him feel.
The trio get ever closer, which allows them to ignore the outside world and find a happiness that eludes them elsewhere. However, escaping into their own little world begins to go too far when they start to do things to get back at their classmates in ways that suggest they may be losing touch with the possible repercussions of their actions. Issues are also brewing due to the fact Lorenzo falls for Antonio, while Antonio falls for Blu, and she is awaiting the return of her older boyfriend. Eventually, it results in tragedy none of them could have expected.
One Kiss is a movie that’s close to being brilliant. It takes on big and important issues, leading things towards a shocking place that is nevertheless pertinent and extremely relevant in the modern age. It has wit and is often pretty smart.
However, its sense of quirkiness will annoy some. Lorenzo has fantasy sequences where he is beloved by all around, Blu writes letters to her older self, and Antonio’s dead brother chats to him when he’s alone. You can certainly understand what the film is getting at with these moments, from the dreams of youth being crushed by reality, to the fact the future is rarely what we expect, but it never quite works out how to fully pull these more fantastical elements into the film as a whole, so that they initially come across as self-conscious affectations. To be fair, they make more sense and have more power in retrospect, but at the time come across as the movie trying a little too hard.
Some may also feel that while the end of the movie is powerful and extremely thought-provoking, it hasn’t done everything it needed to get there. For it to be completely satisfying, the movie needed to take us even further into the character’s heads, particularly Lorenzo and Antonio. What happens is so extreme – if sadly not unique in the real world – that the characterisation has to be exceptionally strong for it to work 100%. One Kiss only gets about 90% there on that score, which means that while it still works, some may feel it’s more trying to be shocking than confronting important issues, even if those issues are truly important.
That’s not true with Blu, as when she finds shocking evidence of what really happened the year before it works perfectly, both from what we know of her and how she’d previously rationalised things, as well as how everything changes for her in one moment when she has to confront reality.
All that said, while there may be a few issues around the edges, they perhaps feel more annoying than they might have due to how good much of the rest of the film is, and how it confronts issues such as consent, homophobia (both internalised and externalised), the potentially devastating effects of adults turning a blind eye to the casual cruelty of teens or blaming the victim, the dangers of internalising fears and oppression, and exploring where shocking teen violence may emanate from. It does so by going to places few movies would dare to tread, and it feels incredibly timely, particularly in regards to consent and how we deal other people’s attractions.
The film shows real anger at the world and underlines how, with just a small shift, everything could be so different. One Kiss even finds time to express frustration that things such as TV’s Glee and even Lady Gaga’s music may be full of hope, but are perhaps mis-serving young people by offering them something they can’t hope to emulate in a world that’s not really like that.
While One Kiss has very serious issues running through it, it also tries to ensure it’s entertaining and it largely succeeds. Almost inevitably there are going to be moments when these two sides rub up against each other in awkward ways, but largely it manages to get them to sit side-by-side very well. It also means that many will be surprised from the relatively light first 15 minutes, the dark places it ends up.
Overall Verdict: One Kiss may have a few issues around the edges, but it bravely confronts a lot of very worthwhile issues about modern youth and the world they live in, in an entertaining and timely fashion.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac