Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Touchy Feely

I can't tell you how disappointed I am in Lynn Shelton's "Touchy Feely."

The director who last year gave us the four-star "Your Sister's Sister" - working again with Rosemarie DeWitt, so brilliant in that film - returns with one of the most stilted, unrealistic and downright bizarre movies of 2013. DeWitt is Abby, a Seattle massage therapist whose bike-repairman boyfriend Jesse (played indistinguishably by an actor with the unfortunate name of Scoot McNairy) unexpectedly - but not unreasonably - invites her to move in with him. This offer comes at dinner at the home of Abby's late parents, where her brother Paul (Josh Pais, Raphael of TMNT fame, in a performance of tics and flourishes), a dentist, lives with his daughter, Jenny (Ellen Page), who works as his assistant. (She's filled out a bunch of college applications but not sent them because she's afraid of abandoning him. If you believe that, I've got some land for you in Florida.) Pais is 55, DeWitt 38, McNairy 32, and Page 26. This is the first problem; you spend half your time trying to reconcile who's supposed to be what to whom. (46-year-old Ron Livingston, who made such a solid impression in "Drinking Buddies" earlier this summer, has exactly one scene as Abby's recovering-alcoholic ex.)

While very slowly packing her belongings with a view to cohabitation, Abby suddenly develops an aversion to touch - illustrated by laughable close-ups of human skin set to horror-movie string chords. Kind of a problem for a masseuse, wouldn't you say? I didn't buy it for one second. She consults her friend and mentor Bronwyn, a reiki master, played by Allison Janney. Now maybe it's just me, but if I were a director and had Allison Janney in my cast, I'd give her as much screen time as possible. Shelton wastes her here, focusing on a ridiculous second storyline involving Paul's dental practice. As the movie opens, Paul sees one or two patients a day. Then Jenny offers a free cleaning to Henry (Tomo Nakayama), her favorite barista. Paul steps in to examine Henry and appears miraculously to cure his TMJ (how, by pressing on his temples?). The next thing you know, his waiting room is overflowing with TMJ patients. Paul warns them all he can't cure them, but he does anyway - except for one, who returns indignantly to demand his money back in a painfully executed scene (after which the waiting room is once again totally empty!). Henry, meanwhile, is so grateful, he invites Jenny to hear him perform music in a club (the Seattle equivalent of the Hollywood Bowl), handing her two tickets on which are written, literally, "HENRY." The seats are arranged in perfect rows, and filled to capacity. If you have any idea what planet we're on here, let me know.

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