Soft Lad *
Starring: Jonny Labey, Daniel Brocklebank, Suzanne Collins, Craig Stein, Laura Ainsworth Directed by Leon Lopez
It's difficult to know whether to take Soft Lad seriously. With its over the top acting and truly appalling script, you can't help but wonder whether Leon Lopez's directorial debut (of Brookside fame) is meant as a piss-take, but with its serious subject matter and clearly earnest tone, it obviously wants to be taken with sincerity. And with that in mind, you can't judge this movie as anything other than utterly dreadful. Presented as part of POUTfest, HOME's LGBT film season, this melodramatic solemn farce is as far away from Peccadillo Pictures' usual hallmark of artistic quality as it's possible to get. And even that's being kind. The film follows David (Labey), a 22 year old dancer who has been having an affair with his sister's husband, Jules (Brocklebank). Realising that their affair means nothing more to Jules than sex, David begins to date Sam (Stein), only to find that Jules still wants to continue their affair. Meanwhile, Jane (Collins) is oblivious to David's tryst with her husband, but slowly becoming more and more alarmed by Jules' erratic behaviour. But as David and Sam's relationship becomes all the more serious, it's only a matter of time before Jules' secret is exposed.
There's a common misconception that a film labelled "independent" will automatically equate a certain artistic quality. But while many films are released independently due to their challenging content or styles, others find their way to distribution independently solely because they're really not very good. Soft Lad is like a feature length episode of a Hollyoaks late night special. With a laboriously intense soundtrack and a few swear words thrown about, the film is screaming "This is adult!" and "This is serious!" at the top of its trivial lungs, but it succeeds only in alienating its audience further by its dogged refusal to accept itself for what it is. Essentially, this is archetypal soap opera. Its characters are overdrawn but devoid of depth, its script is melodramatic and its themes are solely present to entertain. While an exploration of any of its thematic content could have been enough to suffice its entire ninety minute run-time, it chose instead to gloss over any real narrative potential solely for the purpose of cheap amusement. Just as we expect a good handful of cliff-hangers in most episodes of EastEnders, Soft Lad was intent on making us faux gasp, almost waiting for the actors to wink to camera. But they didn't. And if only they did. By acknowledging and playing to the strengths of its genre, this film could have used its narrative tropes to create an unusual piece of cinema using stylistic conventions rarely explored on the big screen. But instead, we were treated to an arduous trudge through a staid and flat politically correct nonentity. A stranger sat beside me started to mutter predictions of the dialogue before it was spoken as the film went on. He was pretty much right, every single time. And with every twist and turn the film inflicted upon us, each atrocious plot point was so ludicrously obvious it was farcical. And by the film's climax, the plot had actually turned into a farce. With characters' ill-timed entrances played for maximum impact, it felt like there was at least a glimmer of recognition that this film wasn't actually serious... But as the characters screamed their way through a confrontational script-by-numbers, it would appear there was little self-awareness to be had. And my neighbour barely stifled hysterics throughout. To add to all of this, the acting layered bad on top of ghastly. With little more than paper-thin archetypes to work with, the actors created impassive cardboard cut-outs, who dragged themselves through the Handbook Of Emotions like a YouTube GCSE revision tutorial. With little help from its dreary script, any kind of character arc or journey just ended up feeling like vague inconsistencies in the lives of a supporting cast, still waiting for the actual protagonist to arrive. But after ninety minutes of waiting, we saw little more than a vague sketch, waiting for someone else to do the painting. And unfortunately, nobody else brought a paintbrush.
Available to download, stream or buy on DVD.