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A young alcoholic wreaks havoc in the lives of her would-be benefactors in Soft in the Head, Nathan Silver‘s follow-up to last year’s well-received outing, Exit Elena. Visually assured but not always as convincing as the heedless performance of non-pro lead Sheila Etxeberria as the narcissistic Natalia, the pic has limited commercial prospects but bolsters the filmography of a director whose next feature, Uncertain Terms, appears to already be in the can.
We meet Natalia as she woozily instigates a domestic dispute with an abusive boyfriend who soon throws her out of their apartment. Now homeless and evidently close to friendless, she will spend the film’s improvised episodes looking for places to sleep and things to drink but worrying little about the social niceties that might help in both pursuits.
After making a mess of Shabbos dinner at the home of her friend Hannah (Melanie J. Scheiner), she finds refuge with do-gooder Maury (Ed Ryan), who has made his small apartment a D.I.Y. homeless shelter. Over the next couple of nights, she alternates between enjoying his hospitality and taking advantage of Hannah’s brother Nathan (Carl Kranz), a man-child who quickly comes to believe they’re in love.
Appropriately enough given Kranz’s performance, which makes Nathan a borderline-autistic Woody Allen obsessive, the film has a strong hold on scenes in Hannah and Nathan’s parents’ home, a dark place well-insulated from Gentile culture. It fares less well at Maury’s place: Though the ensemble here is engaging, bickering at the dinner table and imposing on their host’s generosity, these characters don’t feel like Bowery refugees. Given Silver’s predilection for non-actors, the film might have benefited from the presence of some men who have actually lived on the street; no doubt that would have complicated the production, but considering this setting’s importance in Natalia’s crisis, credibility would be worth the headaches.
Silver’s persistently tight framing echoes the boundary-ignoring nature of its protagonist, who pushes her way into various settings, rewarding those who don’t throw her out with a half-sentient smile and a less-than-half-sincere “Darling.” Etxeberria is a good match for the film’s Cassavetes-inspired character study. She’s no Gena Rowlands, but this woman is clearly under the influence of something that might destroy more lives than hers.
Production: Konec Films
Cast: Sheila Etxeberria, Ed Ryan, Carl Kranz, Melanie J. Scheiner, Theodore Bouloukos, Bruce Smolanoff, Robert Williams-Taylor, Mark Gotbaum, Jayson Simba, Nick Korbee, Nechama Kessler, Moshe Kessler, Cindy Silver, Harvey Silver
Director: Nathan Silver
Screenwriters: Nathan Silver, Cody Stokes, Kia Davis
Producers: Lynn Truong, Nathan Silver
Director of photography: Cody Stokes
Production designer: Kia Davis
Editors: Cody Stokes, Nathan Silver
Not rated, 70 minutes
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