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Touchy Feely

D: Lynn Shelton / 88m

Cast: Rosemarie DeWitt, Ellen Page, Josh Pais, Allison Janney, Scoot McNairy, Ron Livingston, Tomo Nakayama

Shelton’s follow-up to Your Sister’s Sister is a disappointment in comparison, focusing on the problems of massage therapist Abby (DeWitt), her brother Paul (Pais) and his daughter Jenny (Page).  Abby is afraid to commit to her current boyfriend Jesse (McNairy); her anxiety over this leads to a sudden aversion to skin, and to touching it. Conversely, her dentist brother finds that he may have “healing hands” and begins to explore this further with the help of Abby’s mentor Bronwyn (Janney).  While all this is going on, Jenny struggles with her need to help her father at his practice and her desire to move on to college.

From the start this is a movie that lacks focus.  The opening scene introduces the main characters, and while we realise that each has their own problem, the banality of those problems stop them from being interesting: Abby’s commitment issues, Paul’s insular view of the world and the people around him, Jenny’s need to seek new horizons, and Jesse’s lack of ambition – we’ve seen these issues a thousand times before.  But where we might hope for a new take on all this, and for the movie to take us in directions we haven’t seen before, instead, Shelton’s script takes us on several unrewarding journeys that all end with pat and distinctly underwhelming resolutions.  There’s also a major issue with the movie’s timeframe: Paul’s conversion to Reiki therapy obviously takes place over at least a matter of weeks, but in the meantime the other story lines remain held in stasis.  When they do resume it’s as if only a day or two has passed.

Touchy Feely - scene

The cast do well the lacklustre script, Pais in particular, who creates a quiet man-child entirely comfortable with stifling his daughter’s ambitions, while DeWitt and Page cope with roles that are clearly underwritten.  Of the supporting cast, McNairy has the thankless role of confused boyfriend, while Livingston pops up in the background of a couple of scenes until he’s wheeled centre stage for a sequence near the end that feels as contrived as it looks.

Shelton directs ably enough but there’s too little drama to really hold the interest throughout.  There’s not enough real angst to get your teeth into.  The film is also drab to look at, its Seattle setting doing nothing to enhance the mood (though it does match the characters’ unhappiness).  That said, DoP Benjamin Kasulke frames each scene well and makes the often static shots more interesting than they have a right to be.  The film moves at a deliberately slow pace, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, here it just adds to the disappointment at having to spend time with a bunch of humourless malcontents.

Hopefully, Touchy Feely is a blip in Shelton’s directorial career, and her next feature, Laggies, will show a return to form.  It’s a good time for female directors and the more we see from them, the better.

Rating: 5/10 – a soggy, undercooked mess of a movie saved by its cast and a just-about-right running time; for Lynn Shelton completists only.

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