In Lynn Shelton’s Touchy Feely a massage therapist, Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt), begins to suffer from a strange aversion to human contact, while her dentist brother Paul (Josh Pais), appears to develop healing hands. Meanwhile, Paul’s young daughter Jenny (Ellen Page) struggles to figure out what she wants from life.
As a film it’s less than the sum of its parts, although many of those parts are strong. The larger themes of the story end up being stretched rather thinly, but Shelton has a cast on good form to work with, and was evidently concerned more with the character moments than any overarching structure. As a result, what appears to be the film’s central plot point – Abby’s sudden revulsion to human contact – actually manifests itself as a metaphor for her disenchantment, rather than an essential narrative driver. The same is true of most of the film’s narrative turns: the growing success and decline of John’s dental practice, for example, is presented matter-of-factly, and feels almost inconsequential. Shelton gives us three main characters to observe, and they’re convincingly played: the fact that their arcs are relatively subtle reflects the film as a whole. It works as a snapshot of their lives, though perhaps not so much as a commentary on them.
There’s an odd plot point late on involving ecstasy tablets that feels unnecessary, but in general Shelton has a good grasp of her characters, and treats them with equal focus. Rosemarie DeWitt and Josh Pais turn in good performances as distant siblings, while Ellen Page does a really good job of playing young and slightly against type – here she’s more reined-in than we usually see her, and she’s effective. Credit to Scoot McNairy and Allison Janney, too, who do good work in supporting roles.
In the end Touchy Feely is perhaps a little unf ocused and incidental, without a really strong central hook to grab onto, but there is strong character work in here, one or two genuinely touching moments, and some good laughs too.