Review: Touchy Feely (Less Handsy Than You Expect)

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Rosemarie DeWitt plays Abby, a massage therapist looking for an apartment. When her boyfriend (Scoot McNairy) casually suggests they move in together she struggles for a second before realizing it’s a blessing—but she’s not ready and her panic gives way to an aversion to touch that puts the breaks on her job and relationship. Her brother Paul is a robotic dentist (Josh Pais, kind of hilarious) who finds such comfort in complacency he’s letting his practice die with his aging patients. When his daughter Jenny (a strangely cast Ellen Page) invites an acquaintance in for a free cleaning (Tomo Nakayama of the band Grand Hallway), the kid insists the Paul has cured his T.M.J. and he sings his praises all over town. Jenny wants to go to college but fears leaving Dad, who only seems to flounder anxiously and sit in the x-ray room. So while Paul is accidentally letting the world in and growing despite himself, Jenny huddles in a corner and Abby asphyxiates from too much air. Everyone here has their specific reasons to fear the world, and they fear like fish swim—it’s automatic.

Like most of Lynn Shelton’s films, Touchy Feely relies on quiet realizations and slow building struggles. Shelton’s more concerned with the emotional houses we build ourselves than the construction phases, so the obvious stuff is implied in dialogue or otherwise offscreen. Touchy Feely is no less astute than Humpday or Your Sister’s Sister, it just moves at a slower pace; a film that’s asking you to figure out three almost metaphysical conundrums should--but it's also not as funny as her last two. (The lion’s share of comic relief comes from a joyless Josh Pais: use this as a litmus.) But Shelton's gift is her naturalism, a layered appearance she often credits her actors for supplying, and despite reports this film is not as improvised as her previous endeavors, her native Seattle (where she shot Touchy Feely) makes you feel these citizens float-on half tethered to something beyond their reach. These guys are just lucky it rains enough there to stay afloat.

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About Sara Vizcarrondo

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Sara Vizcarrondo is a freelance film critic out of San Francisco. She runs Opening Movies at Rottentomatoes, teaches film/media studies at DeAnza college and writes on film for Popdose and The SF Bay Guardian.

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