When you think of an independent film, the mind usually turns to cutting edge alternatives full of depth, interesting and unique storylines, rich and quirky characters rather than the usual multiplex cinema fare. Touchy Feely, starring Rosemarie DeWitt and Ellen Page, directed by Lynn Shelton, falls short on several levels in her attempt to achieve her own past film festival darling selections. Her work isn’t exceptional; just independent middle of the road filmmaking that feels artificial and predictable at this point in the current cycle of “independent” cinema.
In this Seattle based dramedy, free spirited massage therapist Abby (DeWitt) seems to have her life on track with a good job, loving boyfriend, supportive family and great friends. Suddenly, she’s incapacitated by a touching phobia, leaving her repulsed at the mere sight of skin. Meanwhile, her withdrawn and waning brother Paul (Josh Pais), a dentist, just as suddenly develops a reputation for having healing hands. Word spreads quickly throughout the community giving him that financial life raft he so desperately needs. Now feeling recharged and validated, his confidence and zest for life returns.
Shelton continues to branch out from the mumblecore scene with her follow up to last year’s critically acclaimed Your Sisters Sister. This one, however, regrettably feels like it’s an extended pilot for an HBO series exploring the lives of two slightly quirky siblings. Their two story lines never really feel quite parallel enough to each other. The initial set up struggles so much that interest in the film is lost way too early, and never fully recovers. Despite looking more polished than her previous films, Shelton fails to hook the audience. You keep waiting for something to pull you into the story but sadly nothing unique or interesting ever develops.
DeWitt reunites with Shelton, but this time around she doesn’t quite seem to bring anything interesting or specific to the lead role of Abby. Her performance is decent, but indistinct, much of that attributed to the underdeveloped character. Alternatively, co-lead Pais manages to work with the material into a showcase for his excellent comedic timing in a bigger role than he normally gets. In one scene learning the art of Reike, an ancient Japanese spiritual practice of palm healing, his uptight and reserved demeanor slowly peels away revealing a more relaxed individual. Pais definitely has a talent for delivering deadpan comedy that should be explored again in the future. Supporting actors Ellen Page and Alison Janney do not appear in enough scenes to make any kind of impact, which is truly a wasted opportunity.
It’s not awful, but it’s underwhelming at best. Maybe because Shelton is currently preoccupied with long form television at the moment, Touchy Feely simply doesn’t succeed in either the comedy or drama genre. It has a few redeeming moments but overall it’s a disappointment.