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Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

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 them down.

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.

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Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

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 realized. 

Touchy Feely will continue its gradual theatrical release across the country; it's also available for streaming.