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» A Sundance Director Gets ‘Touchy Feely’

by Rachel Dodes, published on January 18, 2013 - 10:00 AM

Director Lynn Shelton poses for a portrait Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012 in Park City, UtahIn director Lynn Shelton’s new film “Touchy Feely,” a New Age-y massage therapist (Rosemarie DeWitt) finds herself suddenly repelled by the idea of touching people’s skin, while her straitlaced dentist brother (Josh Pais) is endowed with a mystical healing touch. The film also seems to answer this hypothetical question: What if a mind-altering drug served as a dramatic substitute for Chekhov’s gun?

The drug in question—no spoilers here—is described by an herbalist played by Allison Janney (“The Help”) as “a permission slip to let go of your fear.” For Shelton, who initially considered making the drug a placebo, its purpose in the narrative is not to solve anybody’s problems, but to catalyze a vision quest of sorts for the characters. The director is quick to acknowledge that “there are other ways of accessing this other level of consciousness, like through meditation,” adding that she personally has had “extremely cathartic, mind-altering experiences just listening to music.” (That’s why she included a live musical performance in the film as well, she says.)

Shelton, 46, is well known in indie film circles for outrageous sex comedies like 2009’s “Humpday,” about two straight dudes who are pressured into making a gay porno, and last year’s “Your Sister’s Sister” which centers on a guy (Mark Duplass) caught in a love triangle with his straight female best friend (Emily Blunt) and her lesbian sister (DeWitt). But “this film feels very different to me,” she said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

For one thing, “Touchy Feely,” which also features Ellen Page and Ron Livingston in key supporting roles, is wider in scope than Shelton’s previous projects: instead of one key location, there were 15, which required a 20-day shooting schedule, as opposed to 10-12 for her previous films. Tonally, the movie is more of a mix between comedy and drama, and the plot is more expansive, with three interlocking storylines, instead of just one main thread. (One similarity: like her previous four features, the film was shot in Washington state, where Shelton lives.)

Actress Rosemarie DeWitt, who Shelton first met on the set of “Your Sister’s Sister”—she was a last-minute replacement for Rachel Weisz, who had to drop out of the project—served as the initial muse for “Touchy Feely,” says Shelton, adding that she felt that the massage-therapist character, Abby, couldn’t have been played by anybody else. Shelton was simultaneously talking to Josh Pais about collaborating on a project about a normal guy who “goes through a strange arc where he’s told by the world that there’s more to him than meets the eye.” After realizing that the two characters were on parallel yet opposite trajectories, she merged the two storylines, and added the niece/daughter character played by Page, who serves as the “glue” that forces these two very different siblings to interact with each other. She wrote the script in two months in preparation for a spring 2012 shoot.

“If they hadn’t been available, I would have put it on hold, or shot something else—because I built those characters for them,” she says.

“Touchy Feely” will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Saturday as part of the U.S. dramatic competition. The last time one of Shelton’s films was in competition, in 2009, “Humpday” wound up winning the Special Jury Prize “for the spirit of independence” and getting bought by Magnolia Pictures. It was later remade by French director Yvan Attal into the comedy “Do Not Disturb” (2012) with a high profile cast, including Attal, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Francois Cluzet, and Laetitia Casta. Shelton visited the set during the shooting of the final scene of the French adaptation, when the two straight guys (Attal and Cluzet) attempt to make the porno, an experience she describes as “completely surreal.”

“I am sitting there at the monitor in a studio and they built this set to be like this European version of this hotel room that we shot, guerrilla style, in Seattle,” she says, laughing. “They had taken my improvised lines and turned it into a script. They were saying the exact lines in French!” The film was shown at the Toronto Film Festival last fall, but hasn’t yet been released in the U.S.

Source: blogs.wsj.com

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