Ben is a young soccer player who loves playing the game. His family also recently split up, with Ben living with his mom and her former partner Cam now moved out and with a new girlfriend.
He soon aims to win the MVP trophy at a recent game in hopes of fixing his family problems. However, he falls short, his loss compounding his sense of sadness. At one opportune moment, he decides to steal the trophy anyway, bringing his former family unit together in an unexpected way.
Writer-director Dave Edwardz’s engaging family drama illuminates the complex, deeply felt emotional world of its young protagonist with empathy and understand. With a clear, gentle eye for poignant moments and a good ear for how people speak and behave, its solid storytelling engages the heart while still reckoning with the thornier side of life, love and loss.
Excellent writing and well-paced editing form a strong foundation to explore young Ben’s deep tangle of feelings. Grappling with the splitting of what clearly has been an important family unit for him, Ben longs for a father figure in his life, as well as the feeling of being important.
Young actor Isaac Natoli offers a natural, subtle performance as Ben, playing both his longing and his anger with great subtlety and yet somehow showing the connection between the two. He plays Ben with both guileless sweetness and pensive world-weariness.
With such a strong longing, Ben still tries to insinuate himself in the life of Cam, attempting to hold onto the bond he felt with his mother’s ex. But when this bond is not fully reciprocated, Ben learns a hard lesson about who his father figure really is — and who is truly the steady rock of love and affection in his life.
Though the filmmaking isn’t flashy, “The Trophy Thief” has an unsuspecting emotional richness for a short, with great reservoirs of warmth and feeling for its short duration. Its strength is its unvarnished yet measured sense of how adults can fail children in ways both great and small, and its sensitivity to how these failures of empathy can cause ripple effects in the emotions of kids.
Ben must come to his own understanding of who Cam really is, though in doing so, he (and the viewers invested in him) experience a small yet piercing heartbreak. Yet that pain also propels him to greater wisdom, solidifying the most constant source of love and support in his life — and genuinely earning a heartfelt, poignant ending that leaves viewers with hopeful spirits and warm hearts.