Touchy Feely (2013) – Review

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Directed by Lynn Shelton
Written by Lynn Shelton
Starring Rosemarie DeWitt, Ellen Page, Scoot McNairy, Allison Janney, Josh Pais

Apparently the availability of healing hands is limited to one set per household. Writer/Director Lynn Shelton (Your Sister’s Sister), now almost notorious for her access to a stable of respected stars that really really want to make independent cinema, ploughs these connections to the hilt for her follow-up, Touchy Feely, a feature of 2013’s Sundance Festival which is now finally reaching our very own big, albeit limited, screens this weekend.
And looking at the line-up of featured players, you can almost feel the weight of Shelton’s piece here before you’ve even had a chance to view it. Page, Janney, DeWitt, Pais and McNairy will all be familiar to indie fans the world over, sitting atop, as they do, of a plethora of talent that chooses to ply its trade, for the most part, slightly under the radar. Occasionally, they all pop their respective heads up for a big paycheck, but only for long enough to enable them to pay the bills, whilst they do what they seem inexorably drawn to and clearly have an aching yearn to be a part of; making movies for the love of the artform, rather than be beholden to the numbers of bums they can coerce onto seats in darkened movie theatre.
This latest offering from the pen and eyeballs of Shelton is not for the impatient, it must be said quite plainly. At only an hour and a half, this study of a massage therapist’s quandry when she suddenly becomes unable to make physical contact with another human being is painfully slow. I had to watch my graciously provided copy in two parts over two nights because it was just so pedestrian. This in itself is not a crime, however, and there dozens of examples you could argue that move even slower than this effort but may be rightly held up as classics.
What Shelton appears to lack here is a motivation to keep on watching. There is little payoff throughout and the story, slim as it really is, never actually begs for attention. Janney and Pais are probably the two most magnetic players on screen here, but even their performances are so muted as to be almost incoherent. To begin with, you can be forgiven for thinking that Pais’ Paul, a softly spoken Dentist who, quite out of the blue, starts healing people in his chair that have suffered from debilitating pain for years without hope for improvement, is actually playing the part of a man with at least some form of mental or at least societal ailment. This proves not to be the case at all, but to begin with, it’s a little difficult to tell otherwise.
Janney’s healing Reiki practitioner is the most appealing of all the characters and it is unfortunate that she didn’t feature more regularly, only really appearing as a conduit to remove the negative energies from those that needed it the most. I found myself wishing I could lie down and let her work on me too.
At the time Paul begins to work the magic on the gums of the unfortunate, his practice is badly in need of a souped up customer base and word of mouth says his talent is worth visiting for. At one and the same time, Abby (Dewitt), Paul’s sister, loses her ability to physically connect and has to stop working on her massage clients. It is also at this point that she is due to move in with her boyfriend (McNairy) and this inability means that she is forced to think twice before committing to such a big step. This is the only time Shelton really toys with her audience. Is this loss of one siblings apparent healing power and the seemingly magically discovered talents of the other in any way connected?
Practically devoid of any real emotion, most of the characters here are given little opportunity to develop, locked in what seemed like their own private versions of need and personal well-being. With the exception of two scenes (Page & McNairy after the concert and Pais and DeWitt sharing a touching moment holding hands without saying a word towards the end of the film) there is little to get excited by in the actual acting department. The film is shot harmlessly enough by Shelton, but we are never really impressed by how the story is shown any more than the brief story itself.
Overall, this must go down as a rather lacklustre affair that doesn’t really do Shelton’s directing or writing skills justice. If you were impressed by Your Sister’s Sister, then you might rightly be expecting something a little more polished and satisfying from Shelton here, but this ‘difficult second film’ is just that.
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