Mar 2, 2023
Harry Walters, David Carrozzo, Julia Leyland
Ah, daddy issues. Where would cinema be without them. Those complex father-child relations have greatly influenced the medium, from practically anything from Spielberg’s oeuvre to Daniel Day Lewis’ ‘I ABANDONED MY CHILD’ and the most famous line of all - ‘I am your father’ in Toy Story 2. ‘Soft’ doesn’t see such a dynamic played out on an intergalactic scale (in reality it rarely ever is), and is instead a much more subtle, sombre meditation, often impressive, but never immersive.
Interestingly, and perhaps wisely, we only see the father-son relationship in ‘Soft’ through the adolescent lens of Jaden (Harry Walters), a shy teenager with a world-weary face harbouring many pent-up emotions. We assume that his father walked away when he was one, with the film light on details and exposition, also wisely, Benedict Webb’s direction, and the subtleties of Walter’s face to convey unspoken emotions. Equally, this lack of clarity regarding the true extent of Jaden’s father’s absence gives room for different interpretations on the events of the film, making the film feel more personal to the viewer, able to base his absence, and the resultant long-pronounced feelings of detachment on individual circumstances and events.
It’s a tactfully light script, one which feels better for the lack of drawn-out emotional outbursts, and which allows Webb to demonstrate his directorial flair. Webb firmly establishes Jaden’s lack of confidence through the words not spoken, and the sharp close-ups of the sullen, withdrawn look on his face. Coupled with his meekness, which steadily subsides as the film progresses, and reluctance to contradict those around him, we are given a view of how his father’s absence, and his refusal to accept another father figure to act as a role model, has created a shell of a young man, shy when he should be filled with the unabashed confidence of youth.
The flair of Webb’s direction is similarly effective in asserting Jaden’s isolation, often placed as a small presence in the comparatively large expanse of his room. As the camera zooms carefully in on the troubled markings of his face we see a teenager in desperate need of a hug, unable to move on from the absence of his father despite his mother’s (Julia Leyland) insistence that he try. The issue is that the film never quite manages to bridge the admittedly narrow gap between Jaden’s isolation and lack of confidence, and the issues of masculinity and identity it wishes to broach.
In fact, masculinity and identity are rather oddly better approached in the albeit brief depiction of Jaden’s step-father (David Carrozzo), struggling to establish the nature of his relationship with Jaden with the knowledge that he will likely never quite be the father Jaden is missing. Similarly, regarding identity, as Jaden brashly states ‘what would you know about being a man’, and we realise that he is in fact the embodiment of what a man should be. He has the best interests of those he loves at heart, and that should be the depiction of masculinity which we should all aim to fulfil.
Nevertheless, ‘Soft’ is a good film, an impressive presentation of isolation and a teenager’s loss of confidence through Benedict Webb’s firm direction and a nuanced performance from its star Harry Walters. But it’s the script, in its subtlety that caters for everything that comes with it, with its soft nature, if you will, reflective of the absent space left by Jaden’s father, and giving greater room for the direction and performance to probe deeper.