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Touchy Feely Review

touchy-feely-movie
RATING:
(1.5 STARS)

Touchy Feely, the latest from writer-director Lynn Shelton, is the dreariest thing this side of Shelton’s hometown of Seattle. If the over-under on smiles cracked by the film’s quartet of main characters was four, I’d take the under. Even worse than the misery is the film’s thematic aimlessness. Shelton got at deep and meaningful human truths with Humpday (and tried to with Your Sister’s Sister). Here, she’s got all the symbolism in the world at her fingertips (pun intended), but it’s in service of a pretty pedestrian story and underwhelming characters.

Abby (Rosemary DeWitt) is a seemingly happy massage therapist and her family’s rock. Her painfully shy and awkward brother, Paul (Josh Pais), is seeing his dental practice disintegrate before his eyes, while his daughter—Abby’s niece, Jenny (Ellen Page)—feels trapped by her father. She wants to go to college, but he doesn’t make her feel like it’s an option.

Very suddenly and bizarrely, Abby is stricken with a crippling inability to touch anyone, rendering her unable to work or be around her boyfriend, Jesse (Scoot McNairy). Meanwhile, her brother, too, undergoes an inexplicable change. He’s curing patients of their pain, which brings in some new blood and helps turn the business around.

It’s hard to figure what’s worse—the film’s setup or its conclusion. No explanation is given for either Abby’s or Paul’s sudden change in, what, cosmic energy? Both spend time with a hippie natural healer, Bronwyn (Allison Janney), but her presence is the film is as inexplicable as anything else. Still, an inexplicable plot turn—if it leads to compelling conflict and/or a satisfying ending—is totally fine. Touchy Feely has neither of these, sadly. The conflict is utterly nonexistent, so by the film’s end, there’s nothing to resolve.

Touchy Feely is not without merits. I’ll never dislike Rosemary DeWitt in a movie. Ever. It’s simply not in my genetic code. She brings an authenticity to even the most awkward of roles that casting her in your movie is an automatic win. I’d almost say the opposite of Ellen Page in most situations. Post-Juno, she never seems to fit the roles she’s given, whether she’s playing a genius architect in Inception or a hot, young sexpot in To Rome with Love. Here, she’s hardly around enough to bring the picture down, but I’d argue against my better judgment that she actually brings something to the movie by remaining lower than low-key throughout.

Josh Pais is rather one-note as Paul, but the blame for this character’s shortcomings and the film in general lies squarely with Shelton. She takes such visual liberties with her film’s themes—throwing in a number of gorgeous extreme close-ups of skin and hands and all the things we touch—but when it comes to applying these themes to tell a story, she comes up startlingly short. Touchy Feely has a beginning and a middle (which aren’t exactly good), but I’m sitting here, hours later, wondering what happened to the end, wondering how these characters have changed and learned. And I’ve got nothing, which is ultimately what this film amounts to.

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