Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Watch: James Bond Is Back In First Trailer For 'Spectre' Starring Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Dave Bautista, & More Watch: James Bond Is Back In First Trailer For 'Spectre' Starring Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Dave Bautista, & More Terrence Malick's Next Film With Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara & Michael Fassbender Reportedly Gets Titled Terrence Malick's Next Film With Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara & Michael Fassbender Reportedly Gets Titled Watch: Jake Gyllenhaal Gets Bloody And Bruised In First Trailer For Boxing Drama 'Southpaw' Watch: Jake Gyllenhaal Gets Bloody And Bruised In First Trailer For Boxing Drama 'Southpaw' New Infographic Lays Out Canonical 'Star Wars' Timeline With Films, TV And Books New Infographic Lays Out Canonical 'Star Wars' Timeline With Films, TV And Books First Official Image: Jesse Eisenberg As Lex Luthor In 'Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice' First Official Image: Jesse Eisenberg As Lex Luthor In 'Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice' Watch: First Trailer For Arnold Schwarzenegger's Zombie Pic 'Maggie' With Abigail Breslin Watch: First Trailer For Arnold Schwarzenegger's Zombie Pic 'Maggie' With Abigail Breslin Idris Elba Replaces Jamie Foxx In Harmony Korine's 'The Trap,' Al Pacino, Robert Pattinson, James Franco Also Join Idris Elba Replaces Jamie Foxx In Harmony Korine's 'The Trap,' Al Pacino, Robert Pattinson, James Franco Also Join Watch: Explore The Loneliness Of Sofia Coppola's Films With This Supercut Watch: Explore The Loneliness Of Sofia Coppola's Films With This Supercut 10 Terrible Films Starring Great Actors 10 Terrible Films Starring Great Actors Watch: Tom Hanks Acts Out His Filmography In 7-Minutes On 'The Late Late Show' Watch: Tom Hanks Acts Out His Filmography In 7-Minutes On 'The Late Late Show' New Directors/New Films Review: Jia Zhang-ke Produced 'K' Is A New Take On Franz Kafka's 'The Castle' New Directors/New Films Review: Jia Zhang-ke Produced 'K' Is A New Take On Franz Kafka's 'The Castle' Viggo Mortensen Reveals He Turned Down Quentin Tarantino's 'The Hateful Eight,' Auditioned For 'Reservoir Dogs' Viggo Mortensen Reveals He Turned Down Quentin Tarantino's 'The Hateful Eight,' Auditioned For 'Reservoir Dogs' Jonathan Nolan Says His Original Ending To 'Interstellar' Was “Much More Straightforward” Jonathan Nolan Says His Original Ending To 'Interstellar' Was “Much More Straightforward” The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

Review: Lynn Shelton's 'Touchy Feely' Starring Rosemarie DeWitt, Ellen Page & Josh Pais

The Playlist By Rodrigo Perez | The Playlist September 6, 2013 at 4:04PM

There's a strange and opaque energy coursing through the veins of Lynn Shelton's languid fifth feature-length effort, "Touchy Feely." It's a little mysterious, to the film’s moody credit, and it’s a little unavailable and removed, to its detriment. Lead actress Rosemarie DeWitt admitted, "I didn't really understand the character when I read the script," in the post Sundance Q&A. "But then I told her I didn't understand her either," Shelton explained. And not only does this sentiment ring true, it’s this mild inscrutableness that muddies this often compelling, occasionally sublime, but ultimately uneven family drama about energy, connections (missed or otherwise) and healing.
0
Touchy Feely Rosemarie DeWitt

There's a strange and opaque energy coursing through the veins of Lynn Shelton's languid fifth feature-length effort, "Touchy Feely." It's a little mysterious, to the film’s moody credit, and it’s a little unavailable and removed, to its detriment. Lead actress Rosemarie DeWitt admitted, "I didn't really understand the character when I read the script," in the post Sundance Q&A. "But then I told her I didn't understand her either," Shelton explained. And not only does this sentiment ring true, it’s this mild inscrutableness that muddies this often compelling, occasionally sublime, but ultimately uneven family drama about energy, connections (missed or otherwise) and healing.

Shelton’s “Your Sister’s Sister” lead DeWitt stars as the carefree Abby, a well-adjusted sought-after masseuse who on a whim decides to move in with her bike shop-owning boyfriend Jesse (Scoot McNairy). Her conservative brother Paul (Josh Pais) is her polar opposite. Tightly wound and conventional with a nervous energy, Paul's dentistry practice is in decline and no helpful suggestions from his daughter Jenny (Ellen Page) on how to improve and revive the ailing business will be heard.

Touchy Feely Josh Pais Allison Janney

The assured Abby has seemingly got it all figured out, Paul doesn't really care for Jesse, nor the idea of the two of them living together, and the co-dependent Jenny yearns for experience and a life outside the soul-crushing offices of her dad's dour dentistry. Upstairs from Abby's practice is Bronwyn (Allison Janney), an enlightened Reiki therapist who helps heal and care for her energy.

And just as the order and delicate balance of this world is unveiled, it abruptly and mysteriously unravels. It begins with Abby, who suddenly develops a crippling aversion to the human touch – not the ideal affliction for a massage therapist. Queasy and then revolted by the thought of skin and flesh – shot in intimate macro close-up to the point of abstraction – Abby attempts to soldier on, but then quickly shuts down her practice indefinitely until she can get a handle on her uncontrollable disgust. Meanwhile, Paul begins to develop a healing touch out of the blue. He inadvertently "cures" a patient of a jaw disorder. The miraculous word begins to spread and the practice begins to take off, much to his confusion and delight.

It appears as if some kind of transference of energy has taken place between the siblings, but why or how is unclear. Abby's abhorrence of touch also severely disrupts her passionate relationship with Jesse. Concurrently, the relationship between the routine-obsessed Paul and the emotionally stunted Jenny begins to flourish as the practice begins to prosper. Abby's crisis leads her towards introspection and Paul's newfound abilities open up a world of possibility and discovery to the formerly skeptical man.

A film about identity as much as it is about healing oneself and others, the enigmatic connectivity of its themes aren't quite the issue. Listlessly paced, "Touchy Feely" is a muted and a low-energy film. While there's a lot of admirable breathing space for moments of introverted thought and self-reflection, often arriving in close-ups of the face, these scenes never quite resonate as much as they should. While the dramedy has laughs, not many of them land as sharply as they could. Shelton touches upon all these would-be fascinating ideas of the comfort (or discomfort) of living within ones own skin, universal connectedness, spirituality, intimacy and more, but "Touchy Feely" can't quite ever coalesce these themes in a meaningful way – though the film can often maddeningly feel just moments away from something transcendent.

Touchy Feely Scoot McNairy Ellen Page

"Touchy Feely" is frustrating in this sense, as there is lots to admire and love. The underrated Pais is particularly excellent, affecting and funny as the uptight dentist who experiences a mixture of excitement, dread and disorientation when he suddenly becomes visible to those around him. Ill-equipped for the spontaneity his new "celebrity" affords him, Paul wobbles towards different experiences like learning Reiki from Bronwyn, and Pais is definitely the stand-out in this great ensemble. The always-good Allison Janney delights as the grounded therapist and Ellen Page is especially beguiling at expressing the trapped interior life of Jenny.

Shelton's films have been observational and dialogue-driven in recent years and "Touchy Feely" tries to break this form by experimenting with sound, tenor, editing and cinematography. Registering a low wattage throughout, "Touchy Feely" begins to vibrantly surge in its last act becoming dream-like and in one musical sequence with co-star and singer/songwriter Tomo Nakayama (who supplies a few songs in the film's soundtrack) ascends to something extraordinarily moving and affecting. But just as "Touchy Feely" looks like it may finally reveal itself, perhaps say something profound about realigning ourselves with connections that are right underneath our own noses – there's a sequence when it appears like all the characters have discovered they're with the wrong partner – it shies away from this theme, and then aggravatingly ties everything up in a neat bow which seems antithetical to its ambiguous tone.

There's a great movie somewhere inside "Touchy Feely" desperately trying to swim to the surface, but its obscurity also comes with an inarticulateness that robs it of its potential. Shelton's latest is an absorbing exploration of identity, family dynamics and the mysterious psychic push-and-pull balance of the universe, but its chakras aren't completely in order, unfortunately leaving for a disappointing and uneven experience.  [B-]

This review is a reprint of the one that ran earlier this year at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Five clips from the film below. plus some new photos.

Touchy Feely
Touchy Feely
Touchy Feely

This article is related to: Lynn Shelton, Touchy Feely, Rosemarie DeWitt, Josh Pais, Ellen Page, Scoot McNairy, Allison Janney, Ron Livingston, Reviews, Review


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome

E-Mail Updates