Writer and director Lynn Shelton gave us a gem last year with the funny, smart and touching Your Sister’s Sister. Her latest effort, Touchy Feely, has that familiar Lynn Shelton touch and tonality, and like her previous film it stars Rosemarie DeWitt. However this movie about connection and lack thereof is underwhelming.
Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt; Promised Land) and Paul (Josh Pais; The Normals) are on opposite sides of the sibling spectrum, but they maintain a delicate balance within their small family. Abby is a free-spirited massage therapist living a holistic and passionate lifestyle and is about to move in with her devoted boyfriend Jesse (Scoot McNairy; 12 Years a Slave). Paul is a dreary dentist living a monotonous and inter-reliant life with his grown daughter Jenny (Ellen Page, Inception), who feels too guilty to leave her father’s side and start her own life. Things start to change when Paul’s practice is lifted after people hear about his “healing touch,” and Abby develops an aversion to physical contact of any kind, affecting both her work and her private life.
A sterling cast (which also includes Allison Janney and Ron Livingston) is just not enough to pull this movie out of the drudging mud. That being said, everyone in the ensemble is impressive. DeWitt has developed her own brand of subtlety that delivers one fine performance after another, including this one. Page always strikes just the right cord, and with Jenny she is once again able to transmit authenticity and honest emotion.
Josh Pais is probably most impressive as the mundane and up-tight Paul. Pais creates palpable tension and painful awkwardness that it is so strong it is suffocating (not unlike being in an actual dentist’s office).
That tightness and deliberateness lives in the cold climate of the film. The mood is so still and the tone so timbre that not even the great performances awaken the film or awaken the viewer. Shelton’s examination is astute and careful, but the final product is lackluster compared to her previous work, which along with Your Sister’s Sister, includes Humpday and directing episodes of New Girl.
Maybe some of us just wanted Touchy Feely to be something else, something more like what we’ve known and enjoyed. And, audiences always have high expectations when a solid cast anchors a film—its gotta be good, right? What’s the movie equivalent of the phrase “They can sing the phonebook”? This cast can sing the phonebook, but it would be nice if they were singing something else.
Avalilable now on Blu-ray and DVD from Magnolia Home Entertainment.