The Kid with a Bike Reviews
As reflected in, say, a runtime which more-or-less pathetically falls short of 90 minutes, this story, despite being a showcase for worthy subject matter, is not especially special, following a straightforward narrative whose simplicity is bland enough, without the familiarity. Films like these are to be characterized by their being distinct, but something that the Dardenne brothers have always been good at is doing nothing new with storytelling of this style, and sure enough, this film is not simply formulaic, but entirely derivative, and not even of a strong structure to begin with. This film isn't quite as cold as, say, "Rosetta", but it still thrives on aimless meditations upon a whole lot of nothing, for the sake of naturalism that would be immersive if it wasn't for the fact that real life is typically more lively than this. The Dardenne's directorial thoughtfulness works better than I feared, but it still falls over do-nothing material, thus, when things dry up, the drama dull down, generally to a bland degree, and often to a dull degree which distances about as much as the aspects of storytelling which are anything but draggy. Intentionally meandering along, with no real dramatic romanticism, this film seems to hold onto the hope that you'll just happen to stumble upon exposition, as it doesn't really provide any background information, and its gradual characterization is so superficial, not in layers, but in overall exploration. It's a little difficult to get ahold on what's so worthy about the titular lead and his peers, because the film wants you to simply get used to it, yet it still challenges your patience and investment with familiarity, meandering and dullness, and its story isn't even all that juicy to begin with. This film was never to be much, but it also could have fallen so much flatter than it ultimately does, with even the Dardenne's direction having its endearing aspects.
I still can't figure out how it's taking two people to do essentially nothing, because, again, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne rely on an empty directorial style that relies on naturalism and, especially nowadays, boasts very, very little actual style, and yet, one has to appreciate the audacity and the charming ambition in the minimalist, naturalist storytelling sensibilities applied here. Your appreciation will surely be augmented once the Dardennes' overt meditativeness proves effective, with an immersively delicate tastefulness that resonates upon finding material to draw upon which, with a lesser story, would be borderline nonexistent. This story is nothing new, and not much more than nothing at all, and it's easy to expect this film to go the way of certain other Dardenne dramas of this type and fall flat, but through all of the questionable narrative structuring is genuinely worthy subject matter regarding a troubled boy trying to connect with his family and changes in life. There is potential to salvage here, and the Dardenne's don't even do much with it through their script, which is minimalist, but not as do-nothing as I feared, offering plenty of dialogue to help enrich what expository depth there is, and to always provide the meditativeness with something to work with to keep you from getting too bored between the dramatic heights. Honestly, there isn't much to compliment in this lightly drawn affair, but where this film could have gotten completely carried away with its minimalism and fallen as yet another mediocre misfire for the Dardennes, it carries the charm to endear, just as it carries the performances to humanize. This film relies on mere meditations to its dramatics, and that can either distance you a great deal, or allow you to soak in the subtle nuances to, say, the performances, and sure enough, although the performers have little to work with, they do what they can to the best of their abilities, or at least that's the case with Cécile de France, and with young lead Thomas Doret, who is near-remarkably realized in his projection of a flawed and concerned lad's angst and depth. The Cyril Catoul character, with his limited development and great deal of questionable aspects which only grow more and more problematic before finally being dismissed through a desperate attempt at redemption, could have turned out like the lead in the Dardenne's "Rosetta", a kid too flawed to be engaging, even with an inspired portrayal, but Doret, the central focus of this drama, ultimately soaks up enough heart to keep the final product pumping as a charming and often effective, if challenging drama.
Its story thin to begin with, a wholly derivative and questionably draggy and cold, when not developmentally vacant storytelling style threaten the final product's decency, ultimately secured by the worthy subject matter, thoughtful directorial highlights, adequately busy script and nuanced performances by Cécile de France and Thomas Doret which make the Dardenne brothers' "The Kid with a Bike" a serviceably engaging and sometimes effective drama, despite the problematic storytelling aspects which could have made it so much worse.
2.5/5 - Fair