out of Five
Running time: 87
Despite its superb cast, Lynn Shelton's Touchy Feely is a disappointing comedy-drama that raises some interesting ideas but fails to do anything interesting with them.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by Lynn Shelton, Touchy Feely stars Rosemarie DeWitt as Abby, a massage therapist who inexplicably develops a strong aversion to touch, much to the bewilderment of both her boss Bronwyn (Allison Janney) and her nice guy boyfriend Jesse (Scoot McNairy), who has just asked her to move in with him. At the same time, business at Abby's brother Paul's (Josh Pais) failing dental practice picks up after he finds himself suddenly able to cure people with a chronic jaw pain condition, without actually doing anything different. Meanwhile, Paul's daughter Jenny (Ellen Page) struggles with an awkward crush on Jesse and tries to find the courage to tell her father that she no longer wants to be his dental assistant.
Shelton has assembled a superb cast for her third feature and it's a treat to see character actor Josh Pais (you'll know his face) handed a substantial part for once, after years of enjoyable comedy support turns. Similarly, DeWitt (who seems to have quietly replaced Catherine Keener as indie cinema's go-to leading lady) goes some way towards softening Abby's rougher edges (she's not the easiest character to
like) and there's solid support from both McNairy and the reliably brilliant Allison Janney, whose scenes with Pais are the film's best moments. Page is equally good as Jenny but her subplot is actually more engaging than either of the main storylines, which creates something of an imbalance.
Shelton's script starts well but becomes increasingly frustrating, largely because it fails to adequately explore its promising ideas. Abby's somewhat existential condition, for example, has echoes of Todd Haynes' 1995 film Safe, in which Julianne Moore played a woman allergic to the 20th century, while the apparent transfer of ‘healing hands’ from sister to brother is another interesting conceit that goes nowhere.
On top of that, the pacing slows to a painful crawl in the middle section, while a sequence involving ecstasy tablets seems misguided and feels out of place. It's also odd that, having almost deliberately resisted predictability by steadfastly refusing to explore its ideas, the film still ends up embracing familiar clichés in the final act, at least where Paul is concerned.
The strong cast do their best, but Touchy Feely is ultimately something of a disappointment, thanks to an underwritten script that refuses to explore its central ideas and fails to connect on an emotional level as a result.