Published Dec 10, 2013Touchy Feely, with its characteristically loose and improvisational style courtesy of writer-director Lynn Shelton, doesn't quite come together like her other work (Humpday, Your Sister's Sister) has managed to do. This one lacks the solid foundation of those previous efforts, leaving the talented cast to workshop characters and scenes that never feel as if they become fully formed.
Its two main characters find their lives slipping away from them in opposite directions. Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt) is a massage therapist whose professional life and romance with boyfriend Jesse (Scoot McNairy) are thrown into disarray when she is stricken by a sudden aversion to bodily contact. Her brother Paul (Josh Pais) is an introverted dentist resigned to an isolated life at his fledgling office until his clients start to believe he possesses a mysterious healing touch and business booms.
Helping both Paul and Abby with their respective predicaments is a flighty holistic teacher (Allison Janney) of the spiritual practice of Reiki. Meanwhile, Paul's sheltered daughter Jenny (Ellen Page) is at a crossroads in deciding whether to leave her job working for her father to attend school and navigating how to act on an unrequited crush she has on Jesse.
With little narrative momentum keeping things moving, the only real pleasure is in watching the actors periodically plumb the skeletal outlines of scenes for scraps of awkward humour. The underutilized Pais is especially adept at finding the uncomfortable physical demeanour of a sheltered man navigating the implications of his newfound abilities and exposure, particularly in an amusing scene in which he is unsure how to climb on Janney's massage table. Page makes the most of her smaller role and absolutely devastates in the payoff to her romantic entanglement.
The disc's supplemental material provides an interesting look at how Shelton works and the process of the actors she collaborates with this time around, as Janney's lack of improvisational experience stands in contrast to Pais' enthusiasm for working without a script. On an amiable commentary track alongside Shelton and DeWitt, Pais relates how he actually shadowed a dentist a little bit to prepare for the role and crows about being a pretty quick study at cleaning teeth. Naturally, the trio also shares a few stories from the set that they at least understand would probably be far more amusing had you actually been there.