The Kid with a Bike is the coming of age story that is missing from the coming of age story canon. We have tons of stories about kids finding their way with their friends in tow, whether it’s through finding a dead body (Stand by Me) or trying to handle changes from divorce to puberty (Now and Then) or playing baseball (The Sandlot), but what about those kids that don’t have friends or don’t have family? They don’t have stories, or if they do, they’re full of tragedy, drug use, and other melodramatic tools. The Kid with a Bike tells the story of a kid with a less than ideal childhood in a captivating and refreshing way in part because it doesn’t exploit those circumstances

The Kid with a Bike is the story of Cyril Catoul (Thomas Doret), a boy whose mother is out of the picture and whose father (Jeremie Renier) dropped him in a boarding school when money got tight and responsibility got dull. Cyril obsessively looks for his father, who recently moved without telling him, and for the bicycle his father was supposedly safeguarding. During this search, Cyril meets Samantha (Cecile de France), a woman who is sort of a fairy godmother for him. She finds his bike, helps him try to reconcile with his father, and becomes his family when he has none.  With Samantha’s help, Cyril discovers who his family is, what family means, and creates a place for himself in the world.

The story is simple – a woman and a boy bond when she helps him recover his lost bike – but sometimes the things that are simple on the surface are the most complex underneath. The Dardenne brothers, Luc and Jean-Paul, are the auteurs behind this film and they did a fabulous job with every part – writing, directing, cinematography, casting, everything. The writing was nuanced and real – each plot point didn’t feel like a plot point, but a natural progression of Cyril’s life; each choice felt organic to character, and not tool of plot. Futhermore, each character on screen felt like a well-rounded person who had a life beyond and outside of the time they were on screen. Samantha’s boyfriend, Gilles (Laurent Caron), for example, was in the film for a maximum of five total minutes, but I understood his character, his and Samantha’s relationship, and his motivations without any traditional use of exposition beyond what would be said in normal conversation. Samantha introduces him as her friend to Cyril, but based on how they all relate, you can tell that they’ve been together for a while and things are just about to get serious. There’s no confirmation of this fact later, but the impression of this story was clear just from a powerful combination of writing, acting and direction.

The script was structured in an episodic fashion, but instead of being a roller coaster of episodes, each with its own build, climax, and resolution, that feel detached from a theme (as so many stories with episodic structure do), each episode was just another natural progression in the overarching story of Cyril finding his family. It was beautifully written in every sense it could have been – dialogue, plot structure, progression, pacing, moments of silence, and moments of poetic (or not so poetic) action.

The story centers on Cyril not only in the writing, but also in the look of the film. The camera work is impeccable in terms of how it jives with Cyril’s mood and character at any given moment. The camera work is on the fly, and in a documentary style. It rambles and rolls and is constantly in motion, just as Cyril is in his journey, both on and off his bike.

The acting is all-around incredible. The boy who played Cyril had no formal acting training before this film, and it showed in the best way. His performance was raw, gritty, forceful and heartwrenching. When Cyril was upset, Thomas Doret didn’t control it, he let his emotions out and wore his heart on his sleeve. I credit this performance to Doret’s natural talent and the Dardenne Brothers’ directing skills.

Cecile de France gave an understated, real performance as Samantha. She was more low-key and matter of fact about her performance than Doret, but that was the character. When she was aggravated, it read on her face, but barely in her voice. She was a person, and not an actor playing a person.

I cannot recommend this movie enough. It’s beautifully written and acted and shot to reflect the tone and themes of the movie and scenes, and to respect the modest, small town setting of the film.

I left the theatre and immediately used my iPhone to add other Dardenne Brothers’ movies to my Netflix.

The reason I have to complain about The Kid with a Bike is that, due to its pedigree as a Belgian film, it will probably not get the attention or accolades it deserves on this side of the Atlantic. If you’re reading this review, make an effort to see this movie. It’s an entirely captivating story that, true to life, is both deceptively simple and deliciously complex.