I like many qualities of Lynn Shelton’s work (Humpday, Your Sister’s Sister) and her
latest, low-key effort has particular promise because it has such a strong,
well-chosen cast, led by Rosemarie DeWitt, Ellen Page, Scoot McNairy, Josh
Pais, Allison Janney, and Ron Livingston. They bring their characters to life
with such conviction that it’s a shame Shelton’s screenplay ultimately lets
DeWitt plays a gifted massage therapist in Seattle whose
clients know she has a special touch. Her mentor, in turn, is a holistic healer
(Janney) who senses something even DeWitt can’t put her finger on (no pun
intended) right away. Some form of emotional, even physical, paralysis has
suddenly overtaken her and she can’t bear to touch anyone—or be touched.
Needless to say, this throws her freewheeling boyfriend (McNairy) for a loop,
not to mention her close-knit family: an uptight brother who works as a dentist
(Pais) and his repressed daughter (Page) who can’t bear to leave the nest lest
it disrupt her dad’s orderly life.
We’re drawn into the lives of these characters and their
immediate crises, but Shelton doesn’t seem to know how to resolve the
situations she’s set up, as if she’s painted herself into a corner with no clue
what to do next. The wrapup of Touchy
Feely is both abrupt and unsatisfying, leaving far too many questions
unanswered and loose threads untied. This is especially frustrating because the
film starts out so well, and offers the actors so much to work with. Pais, a
reliable “working actor,” gives an especially rich performance, using sheer
physicality to portray a man incapable of relaxing and letting go.
If I were an actor I would never turn down a chance to work
with a filmmaker like Shelton, even if the results are less than perfect, but
this film has an unmistakable air of a promising work that’s never fully
Touchy Feely will continue its gradual theatrical release across
the country; it’s also available for streaming.