Thursday, 2 May 2013

Sundance London 2013: Touchy Feely Review

Director/Writer: Lynn Shelton

Starring: Rosemarie DeWitt, Ellen Page, Josh Pais, Scoot McNairy, Alison Janney, Ron Livingston

Synopsis: When a massage therapist suddenly finds herself repulsed by human skin, she finds her romantic relationship and work-life in ruins. Meanwhile, her brother, a dentist, undergoes a life-altering bout of success in his practice. Crossing back and forth between the stories, Touchy Feely explores the subjects of interaction and progression.

Lynn Shelton’s canny ability to write and visualise awkward human interaction has given her a string of critical successes. Humpday and Your Sister’s Sister were excellent character-pieces, lovingly crafted with humour and heart; it then becomes a disappointment to find her latest, Touchy Feely, plain dull.

Scratch beneath the surface of Touchy Feely and there is a rich set of themes (humanity’s obsession with contact, desire and repulsion, and the idea of spirituality or intuition). Sadly, these are ideas too profound to explore in an 80 minute comedy/drama and Shelton’s attempt to investigate drains the film of life.

It’s a film packed with too many characters, motifs and story arcs – having a damning effect on the wonderful cast. All graciously at ease with their minor characters, it appears none of the fine character actors employed for the film saw an issue with screen-time. Contemporary favourites such as Alison Janney, Ron Livingston and Scoot McNairy have all-too brief moments (especially Livingston) but fail to make an impression. If you see any of the other cast in different films, you (usually) walk away adamant to seek out more of their work. McNairy is fast becoming a star (or at least should be) but it’s doubtful that this film will have cinemagoers intent on finding out his filmography, as he’s barely written in efficiently.

In the lead as Abby, Rosemarie DeWitt is allowed a decent amount of screen-time, as well as her on-screen brother played by Josh Pais. As DeWitt has continually found herself part of smart, funny indie films you look toward the lesser-known Pais. He plays the nervous, withdrawn type well enough to get him typecast, with perhaps the only laugh out loud moment where he attempts to relax for the first time. It’s his arc that happens to have the better material, leaving the likes of Ellen Page (as his daughter) and newcomer Tomo Nakayama (“cured” by Pais’ dentist and encouraging a wealth of new clients for the practice) in the shadow of the only appealing plotline.

An ensemble of some of the best actors around given little to do with material that feels so very flat after Shelton’s last two films. Call it a lack of artistic vigour but one should hope that this isn’t the beginning of a downward spiral for the writer/director.
By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on LiveForFilms

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