‘Touchy Feely’ finds a filmmaker trying new things

Josh Pais and Rosemarie DeWitt play distant sibling in "Touchy Feely." Credit: Magnolia Pictures
Josh Pais and Rosemarie DeWitt play distant sibling in “Touchy Feely.”
Credit: Magnolia Pictures

‘Touchy Feely’
Director: Lynn Shelton
Stars: Rosemarie DeWitt, Josh Pais
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

The filmmaker Lynn Shelton excels at two things above most of her peers: hooky high-concepts that can be achieved on tiny budgets and uncannily realistic depictions of relationships. “Humpday” boasted both a great premise — straight dudes who’ve convinced themselves to do gay porn — and actors (Mark Duplass and Josh Leonard) whose onscreen friendship seemed genuinely deep and lived-in. With “Touchy Feely,” Shelton — as if to test herself — abandons these qualities.

The premise is big: A masseuse (Rosemarie DeWitt) suddenly finds herself repulsed by human touch. But unlike past films, she purposefully avoids turning this outlandish plot into farce, instead treating it with odd, if not exactly productive, seriousness. And instead of long, handheld hang-out sessions, it’s classically shot with tripods and close-ups. It more closely resembles Shelton’s for-hire TV work (such as episodes of “Mad Men” and “New Girl”) than her previous films.

Whether this is a good thing is another matter. Moving from contained chamber dramedies with three main characters to a more expansive ensemble approach —while still turning in a film that just barely cracks the 80-minute mark — it initially centers around DeWitt’s Abby. Pressured into moving in with her boyfriend (Scoot McNairy) and stressed by her family, she snaps.

But she’s not the only one in turmoil. Brother Josh Pais is so uptight and controlling, yet simultaneously so mousy, he’s like a breaking robot. This hasn’t done wonders for his daughter (Ellen Page), who works as his assistant at his dental practice, but isn’t allowed to do much of anything but stand awkwardly in place.

DeWitt greatly excelled opposite Emily Blut in Shelton’s “Your Sister’s Sister,” which capped off a greatly perceptive first two acts with a lazy musical montage. This is even worse: it’s all laborious set-up followed by quick, even lazier wrap-up. Still, remnants of Shelton’s gifts are peppered throughout. Though it never spends much time bro-ing down with its characters, scenes with a fellow massage therapist (Alison Janney) have a looseness that few other filmmakers achieve.

Shelton has a deep love for her characters, especially ones who are more traumatized and rootless than before. In “Humpday” and “Your Sister’s Sister” tended to mask their emotions behind jokes and evasions. Here, they bottle them deep down inside. Shelton has yet to find a way to dramatize suppressed feelings, but her compassion and generosity has few equals.


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

New statue of Penn State's Paterno set for…

By David DeKokHARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Fundraising for a new statue depicting Joe Paterno "as the man he was and not Joe the football coach"…

National

On newly released tape, 'Squeaky' Fromme says was…

Manson Family member Squeaky Fromme told a mental health examiner in newly released interview the "X" she carved in her forehead was meant to separate her from "the system."

Local

New York-based Century 21 store coming to The…

The former Strawbridge & Clothier building will once again host a department store. City officials on Thursday announced New York-based Century 21 Department Stores will…

National

Electric Zoo tickets on sale Tuesday as festival…

Electric Zoo tickets go on sale Tuesday. The festival announced plans to amp up security after two attendees died last year from apparent drug overdoses.

Movies

Tribeca: 'Goodbye to All That' star Paul Schneider…

Paul Schneider talks about his new film "Goodbye to All That," not acting too much and how he'd rather indulge in simple pleasures than play the scene.

The Word

Taylor Swift battles paparazzi daily at Tribeca penthouse

We're entranced by these photos of poor Taylor Swift leaving her Tribeca apartment.

Movies

Tribeca: Nikki Reed on going funny for a…

"Intramural" star Nikki Reed talks about being the straight person in a broad comedy, spending time in Austin and how "Thirteen" was a "miracle."

Movies

Interview: 'The Quiet Ones' star Sam Claflin on…

"Hunger Games" co-star Sam Claflin talks about his new horror film "The Quiet Ones," plus how technology connects him with fans.

MLB

The return of Cole Hamels brings optimism

Cole Hamels’ quality start Wednesday was a nice change of pace from his recent season debuts.

MLB

Tony Gwynn Jr. a nice surprise for Phillies

Tony Gwynn Jr. has been a plus in every way for the Phillies.

NFL

2014 NFL Mock Draft: Updated, new April 24…

2014 NFL Mock Draft: Updated, new April 24 version

MLB

5 infamous pitcher ejections for cheating

Never fear Yankees fans, Michael Pineda is far from the first MLB pitcher to be thrown out of a game for cheating.

Food

Hai Street Kitchen opening in Rittenhouse May 22

Japanese cuisine will get a Chipotle-style twist at Hai Street Kitchen & Co., a new casual, quick-food restaurant opening near Rittenhouse Square on May 22.…

Parenting

New study: Inside the wage gap between boys…

According to a new study, there's a wage gap between boys and girls, with boys earning more allowance for less chores.

Tech

From Apple TV to Fire TV, big changes…

Apple is set to launch a new generation of it's Apple TV, which grossed over $1 billion in 2013. But competition from Amazon and Google looms.

Style

Katy Perry releases a new Claire’s collection

Katy Perry expands her empire by releasing an accessories collection at Claire's.