Maudlin, uneven of tone and blighted by a transparent piece of artifice, Touchy Feely marks Lynn Shelton's directorial nadir|
by Jeremy Kay, published on Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - 12.04 GMT
All fingers and thumbs Touchy Feely, Lynn Shelton's drama starring RosemarieDeWitt, fails to hit the heights
Lynn Shelton has come a long way since Humpday. Her 2009 comedy was fresh and lovable and earned a dramatic special jury award when it premiered at Sundance. Last year, Your Sister's Sister screened in Park City and made less of a splash. Shelton's new movie, Touchy Feely, marks a low point, barely registering a ripple.
Rosemarie DeWitt plays Abby, a massage therapist with world-class healing hands. The clients adore her, she's falling deeper in love with her boyfriend, and life is generally good. By contrast, her brother Paul (Josh Pais) is an uptight dentist who barely ekes out a living. Paul lives with his daughter Jenny, a lonely parcel of malaise with cartoonish eyes played by Ellen Page. It's hard to tell whether Paul's joyless existence rubs off on Jenny or hers on him or if they bring equal amounts of misery to the equation.
The point is, they're going nowhere while Abby is happily marching along. At least, she thought she was, until one day she fixates on her skin and freaks out. The notion of skin suddenly becomes so abhorrent to Abby that she finds her job is in fact way out of her comfort zone. At the same time, Paul is changing. Patients who suffer from severe jaw pain are finding that their dentist suddenly possesses an uncanny ability to cure them of the malady. Word of mouth spreads and Paul's business booms. Meanwhile, Abby frets that her relationship with Jesse, which was essentially a rebound, has progressed too quickly. This becomes a seemingly irreconcilable source of anxiety, and she tells him it's over.
As a metaphor for fear of commitment, the aversion to touch makes sense. There is, however, a problem with the switchover, which as a defiantly transparent piece of artifice is irritating, even though it allows Paul to explore beyond his limited horizons. How Abby responds to what is happening to her is the crucial element, and in this regard her reiki healer friend played by Allison Janney is key. What is not key are Jenny and the other characters in the movie, who are served up as an insubstantial side dish.
In essence, Touchy Feely is a maudlin piece with little by way of comic relief. DeWitt is appealing in her happier moments and does a solid job, as do all the cast; although Pais's Paul by far the best thing about the movie. Shelton's migration towards more clear-cut drama is hampered by uneven tone and, most damning of all, dullness.