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Review: Soft

April 7, 2023

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

The feature directorial debut of Toronto filmmaker Joseph Amenta, Soft is a gritty and atmospheric coming-of-age film that follows Julien (Matteus Lunot), Otis (Harlow Joy) and Tony (Zion Matheson), three adolescent kids in the city who are hanging out together over summer break.

The kids, who are all queer but whose sexual orientations and gender identities aren’t fully defined by writer-director Amenta, get into mischief; the opening scene has them stealing condoms from a local convenience store, which they play with and blow up like balloons in an alley.

They are an abrasive, unapologetic bunch, propelled by Julien’s rebellious attitude, flying in the face of a world that they feel may not accept them anyway. They are a bit much when we first meet them, and Amenta lets them be obnoxious, but believably so.

Julien, who left his mother and lives with Dawn (Miyoko Anderson), a transgender sex worker who acts as his guardian, becomes preoccupied with sneaking into a queer nightclub, perhaps seeking some sort of salvation that he believes lies within. It’s all play for these kids, until someone goes missing and reality comes crashing down around them.

The first part of Amenta’s film (which initially had the name Pussy – a word used throughout – when it was announced to premiere at TIFF last year, before the title was changed to Soft) seems modelled after Larry Clark’s Kids (though it’s not nearly as shocking or extreme in content), following the three main characters as they sneak away from home to hang out around the city. But Amenta struggles slightly when making the necessary dramatic shift partway through, and the narrative ends up feeling a bit too elusive in a way that keeps the story from living up to its full potential.

The film becomes somewhat of an urban mystery, though because the story is told from the perspective of its young protagonist Julien, it leaves several unanswered questions, which strips the conclusion of some of its satisfaction. But Amenta does show skill in the way that he indelibly captures a sense of time and place, with the intimate, often handheld cinematography by Liam Higgins adding a unique texture to the film. It’s guided by naturalistic performances from the young cast members, who have believable chemistry together, with Lunot’s fiery breakout role at the centre of it.

(L to R) Harlow Joy stars as “Otis”, Matteus Lunot stars as “Julien” and Zion Matheson stars as “Tony” in director Joseph Amenta’s SOFT, a levelFILM release.

Soft opens in limited release in Toronto on April 7th, and will be expanding to more cities in the coming weeks. It’s being distributed in Canada by levelFILM.

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