Broadly described, One Kiss’s premise is comparable to Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Like Chbosky himself, writer-director Ivan Controneo has adapted his young-adult novel about three teenagers – a free-spirited girl, an introverted boy and a gay and proud boy – battling high-school bullying and homophobia. While the movies are not fundamentally different, the details are unique enough for the Italian production not to seem overly unoriginal. One Kiss offers incredible connections between the leads and blends quirky comedy with a sense of melancholy. Also, there are numerous cultural references. Lady Gaga plays a role as significant in the characters’ development as The Rocky Horror Picture Show did in Perks.
Antonio is a basketball player for the high school team, but off the court he is bullied by his teammates. He spends most of his time silent and grieving over the death of his popular older brother. Blu is a smart girl who has written an unpublished book and is fighting vulgar graffiti on the school walls condemning her past sexual exploits. Lorenzo, recently adopted, is the new gay kid in school who guards himself with his colourful sense of fashion and love of Gaga music. It doesn’t take long for all three to befriend each other, which proves to be a strength for fending off bullies.
One Kiss recalls other coming-of-age movies (Antonio’s dead brother will ring a bell for the Stand By Me generation). Although while this is a teens’ story, the film widens the scope by also focusing on the parents. As a result of a sensitive script and strong performances, Controneo illustrates the grey areas of their personalities. These are not strict, taskmaster parents, which is often the case in teen-oriented movies. They champion their son or daughter’s freedom of expression while facing the difficult (yet common) situation of setting limits.
The strength of One Kiss is the characters’ growth. Blu, Antonio and Lorenzo have a sunny and optimistic, but unrealistic view of life. They even go so far as to skip class to embark on a tour through town. However, one kiss changes their lives forever. It surfaces unrecognised mistakes, causing the three of them to let their defense mechanisms down.
There are attempts to develop the characters with these elaborate musical numbers (Lorenzo’s first-day-of-school entrance must be seen to believe). Ivan Controneo has the sole screenplay credit for this adaptation and the movie might have benefited from a little trimming here and there. Although the musicals are amusing, they do switch the movie from real to surreal at times.
By taking a dark turn in the third act and leaving the characters’ fates open to interpretation, it’s possible to argue that audiences will feel cheated. Despite this, this movie is one to look out for if you’re after something sad, funny, warm and nostalgic. Anyone who felt excluded in high school will recognise echoes of One Kiss. 3.5/5
Words by Richard Houlihan
Images supplied by Lavazza Italian Film Festival 2016
One Kiss will screen at the Lavazza Italian Film Festival, Palace Barracks on October 6 and 13.