At a party teenagers Nathan and Louis share a secret kiss. What they only realise later is that someone saw them, took a photo and put it on Facebook. Only new boy in school Nathan is recognisable in the picture, leading to plenty of speculation about who the other boy is. It also means that Nathan has now been outed, including to his unsuspecting father and his classmates, who soon start making life difficult for him.
With his teachers prevaricating over how – or even whether – to help him and the abuse getting worse, Nathan also has to deal with the fact his dad is struggling with the realisation he has a gay son. Louis isn’t helping either, as he says the kiss was just an experiment. However, he may only be saying that because he has deeply homophobic parents who he knows would reject him.
There’s a well-known rule for writing screenplays that you should start a film as late into a story as possible. Hidden Kisses takes that to the extreme, so that for the first 15 minutes it feels like you’ve missed something vital. The movie throws you right into the tick of it, with Nathan and Louis already having had their kiss and people starting to find out about it.
It’s a little confusing at first, but that soon settles down (and it does eventually flashback to what happened at the party). After a while it becomes easier to follow and you start to realise quite how heartfelt it is. That said, throughout the film there’s an uneasy balance between its desire to illuminate the pressures of homophobia on teens and the different directions that can come from, and the need to keep the movie balanced. Several times Hidden Kisses shifts the story in a new direction or onto side characters, almost like a short film within the main movie. Each time it does this it’s interesting – such as when it focuses on how the teachers deal with homophobic bullying and their own attitudes towards gay students – but there’s not quite enough time to fully deal with the issues these side stories raise. Ultimately you have to applaud the ambition but it can’t quite keep all the balls in the air that it wants to.
It also means that in trying to cover so many facets of the problems and issues young people could face if their sexuality is revealed, it has a tendency to feel like it’s pushing things a little too far and becoming a little overwrought. Thankfully, it tempers this with a real empathy for its characters, backed by some good performances from the main actors. Hidden Kisses also ensures that while it wants to underline just how bad homophobia can be, there’s also hope, the possibility of change and that love and happiness is worth fighting for.
Although it can’t resist making the ending bittersweet, it’s emotionally affecting and does a good job of suggesting that things can get better, and that even if it’s a struggle, there are people out there who will support you.
Overall Verdict: Although its ambition sometimes cause it to get a bit loose and problematically structured, underneath it’s a heartfelt look at the effects of homophobia on two young men.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac