by Zeba Blay, published on January 27, 2013 - 3:00 pm
After their lukewarm collaboration Your Sister's Sister, director Lynn Shelton and actress Rosemarie DeWitt reunite again for the equally unsatisfying dramedy Touchy Feely, a film that squanders the potential of an intriguing premise. It follows massage therapist Abby, a woman who finds herself unable to work when she develops a sudden and paralyzing fear of bodily contact. Her terror affects not only her professional, but personal life, putting her relationship with boyfriend Jesse (Scott McNairy) in danger. Meanwhile, her precocious young niece, Jenny (Ellen Page), and socially awkward brother, Paul (Josh Pais), also go through their own existential crises stemming from an inability to connect with other people, both physically and emotionally.
Human connection is the film's obvious but woefully unelaborated theme. Shelton's camera jumps sporadically from character to character, never spending enough time with any of them for us to get a rich sense of who they are. As Abby loses her gift of touch, her socially awkward dentist brother inadvertently heals a patient suffering from a jaw disorder, and though he claims that it was just a fluke, he continues to cure hundreds of other patients who reverently seek him out to take away their own afflictions. While there's a sense that Abby's gift has somehow miraculously transferred to her brother, Shelton doesn't attempt to rationalize this bizarre plot shift.
While it possesses all the hallmarks that made Shelton's debut film, Humpday, so entertaining (an interesting, imaginative plot, a stellar cast, hints of poignant drama), Touchy Feely never quite makes the plight of its characters truly engaging. The lack of connection to the protagonists or insight into what they're going through leaves the movie feeling unfinished.
The Sundance Film Festival runs from January 1727.