Soft, directed by Joseph Amenta and written by Amenta, Miyoko Anderson, and Giselle Ariel Bleuz, is a movie of extremes. Extreme queer joy, as Julian (Matteus Lunot), Otis (Harlow Joy), and Tony (Zion Matheson) live their best lives, free to be boundary-pushing teenagers away from the gaze or control of their parents. It’s also a movie of extreme sorrows, as mostly off-screen horrors underly Julian’s every day.
What I love most about Soft is how well its title matches its tenor. These are just three soft kids in need of a soft world. For Otis and Tony, they have degrees of softness waiting for them at home. For Julian, though, he can’t go home safely. So he seeks softness in Dawn’s (Miyoko Anderson) home instead, a trans sex worker who treats Julian like her own child. Julian is one of those kids who act out, curses a lot, has stupid ideas and drags Tony and Otis down into them repeatedly, and isn’t afraid to demand more access to the adult world Dawn somewhat exposes the kids to.
They’re extremely typical teenagers in this way, and in a way that movies can sometimes forget as they force kids to grow up too fast or hold a level of unrealistic maturity in the average coming-of-age tale. Most of Soft is simply about watching these teens run around free and being teenagers. The ecstasy of being with each other and being able to dress, talk, and act as they want to without concern is the point more so than whatever meandering plot makes up the first two-thirds of the movie. But at the same time, Soft is a reminder that this ecstasy is a fantasy. Julian can’t go home. Dawn is struggling to pay rent, and it puts Julian in a position where no kid should have to be, with concerns about making money for the two of them, being willing to run away from home for good, do sex work, and be the “man of the house” despite obvious dispassion for being stuck in a gender binary.
These sharp juxtapositions in the reality Julian craves against the reality Julian has to rage against are far more interesting than the actual major plot point that comes about in the final portion of the movie. It’s not as traumatic as I anticipated, though it has its poorly-lit and too-dark-to-see zenith. But the piece of the plot itself just takes what was an otherwise fairly ethereal movie and pins everything starkly into reality in a way that emotionally impacts hard but structurally feels out of place. I’m left feeling torn up over how Julian will move forward, but for about 15 minutes, I was too busy trying to suddenly follow a plot where I didn’t have to focus as intently on the story until then.
By the final few scenes, the intrigue slows down. Some intense final character moments and confrontations bring us back into less stable territory, especially in a scene close to the end where all of Julian’s moments of forced maturation culminate in an extreme situation that feels a bit fantastical but is necessary to give Julian the final push necessary to reach the end state the soft child needs to wind up in.
Soft from start to end is about the softness that every kid craves, and every kid deserves. No matter how rough their lives might make them feel or make them act, teens deserve the support and comfort of softness. Soft is a fond reminder of the extremes queer teens can experience and our responsibility to keep their extremes joyful.
Soft screened as part of Outfest Fusion 2023. Follow all of our coverage of the festival here.
Soft from start to end is about the softness that every kid craves, and every kid deserves. No matter how rough their lives might make them feel or make them act, teens deserve the support and comfort of softness.