The title character in “Soft Shell Man,” a light French-Canadian comedy, is Alex (David La Haye), a Montreal photographer who, like all men, wants desperately for everyone to like him.
This is an insight from writer/director AndrÃ© Turpin, who paints Alex as a guy who won’t commit, but who won’t commit to being non-committal, either. To commit would be to solidify an opinion, and the trouble with opinions is that someone might disagree with them. He flirts with every woman he meets (including an E.R. doctor and a surly airline ticket agent) — not because he’s oversexed, but because he wants to be liked.
He wants men to like him, too, and he’ll pretend to be, say, a wakeboard enthusiast if that’s what his current company enjoys. He even runs drugs for his junkie friend Audrey (Pascalo Desrochers), rather than stand up to her and say no.
Normally, characters like Alex are nerdy, timid creatures whose desire for acceptance is born of isolation and insecurity. But Alex is handsome, successful and decent. Turpin’s point is that in reality, all male humans are needy.
The matter at hand is that Alex sort of has a thing for Marie (Isabelle Blais), while also developing a crush on his best friend’s deaf girlfriend Sara (Chantal Giroux). Meanwhile, he’s delivering drugs to rugged rich jerk Armando (Charles Armand Turpin), who speaks in an amusing French/English hybrid, and preparing an exhibit of his own photographs at a local gallery.
Turpin is making his directorial debut here, having previously worked as cinematographer for several Canadian films (including last year’s whacked-out “Maelstrom”). He fills that role in “Soft Shell Man,” too, and uses strange close-ups and camera angles to his advantage, making the film quirky and memorable without getting ridiculous about it.
La Haye gives an appealing performance as Alex, conveying earnest likability even while keeping the character’s motives intentionally vague. (The whole point, of course, is that Alex has no idea why he acts the way he does.) The wryly comical script is played well by the entire cast; if a plot twist late in the game is a little predictable, we readily forgive.
B (; )