By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood August 30, 2013 at 1:00PM
With "Touchy Feely," Seattle filmmaker Lynn Shelton returned to Sundance with her fifth feature and second competition film, and her most personal since her 2006 debut "we go way back." "I am proud to be part of this lineup of eight women," she said.
While Shelton's last two Sundance entries, the entirely improvised "Humpday," and 80% improvised "Your Sister's Sister," focused on observing male/female relationships, this one stars "Your Sister's Sister" lead Rosemarie DeWitt as the writer-director's alterego. Shelton wrote a script--"this one is from the inside out"-- and cast a strong ensemble, who mixed script and improvisation as they went. "Lynn is the container and orchestrator," said DeWitt, "she gives the actors and crew tremendous freedom." (Video interview with Shelton and DeWitt below.)
The breakout of the film is Josh Pais, who Shelton met after a Tribeca screening of Nicole Holofcener's "Please Give." "I really discovered the character as we were shooting," said Pais, who's a Sundance veteran ("Arbitrage"). But everyone shines, including improv newbies Scoot McNairy, Ellen Page and Allison Janney, who was recommended by Catherine Keener as a replacement when she couldn't schedule her role. Keener also connected Shelton with Page, literally, on a car speakerphone. Page said she felt "humility and excitement" when she saw "Your Sister's Sister." Shelton met Ron Livingston at a condo party at Sundance.
The film is more intricately plotted than Shelton's last films, as a brother (Pais) and sister (DeWitt) each deal with life changes in their jobs as dentist and masseuse, respectively. His practice suddenly comes to life when patients believe that he possesses healing powers, while she ditches her clients when she feels nauseous at the idea of touching human skin. She's having doubts about whether to move in with her boyfriend (McNairy) or with her brother and neice (Ellen Page). You never know what's going to happen in a Shelton film, as she focuses a digital camera on each actor for long repeated takes --anything can happen.
"Touchy Feely" is now available on iTunes/On Demand and opens in Los Angeles on September 13, 2013.