Lynn Shelton’s “Touchy Feely” is one of those Mumblecore (a term used to describe micro budget pictures about awkward white people) movies that you just shrug at when done watching it. This doesn’t mean it’s completely bad. Considering all of the major studio comedy slog that comes out on a weekly basis, it is refreshing to see a comedy featuring awkward, average looking people and one that’s not shot in the glamorous sectors of New York or Los Angeles. At the same time however, the characters in “Touchy Feely” are so thinly sketched and the situations they find themselves in feel so trivial and insignificant (this is true of all Mumblecore movies but for some reason the situations feel especially trivial in this film) that it doesn’t leave much of an impression. While watching it you may be mildly entertained but when you’re done it will almost completely evaporate from your mind. I think “Touchy Feely” can be best described as a ninety minute “sigh.”
Shot on location in Seattle, WA— and made in the homemade deadpan/quirky manner, characteristic of all Mumblecore movies—“Touchy Feely” follows the goings on of two siblings (a brother and sister) who suffer from identity crises and need to be emotionally recharged. The sister Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt) is a masseuse who’s a free spirit and into all of that Zen stuff, typical of any Indie-quirky comedy character. She’s currently seeing a bike shop owner (played by Scoot McNairy) who suggests they move in together, which she agrees to hesitantly. But then, one day she develops a sudden aversion to physical contact with humans. This means she can’t do her job and can’t interact with her fellow.
We never find out why she gets this sudden aversion and quite frankly Shelton doesn’t give us much of a reason to care. Perhaps it’s caused by the proposal for her to move in with her boyfriend (I’ve forgotten the name of McNairy’s character and I can’t find it anywhere online) but he seems decent enough and before he can even figure out what’s going on she runs away from him. So ultimately Abby comes off mopey and shallow and her problem feels so “First world.” Shelton probably wanted it to be ambiguous but her character is so thin that you don’t really care to think that much about it afterwards.
The brother Paul (Josh Pais) is a little more interesting, although he’s still thinly drawn. He lives a mundane, uptight life as a dentist with his daughter Jenny (a surprisingly restrained Ellen Paige). Initially his dentistry (plainly named “Family Dentistry”) is struggling but then, seemingly out of nowhere (much like his sister’s bizarre condition) he acquires a “Magic Touch” and without boring you with more details, his waiting room goes from empty to full. Admittedly I found some mild amusement from this whimsical little tangent but Shelton doesn’t do a whole lot with it and it’s resolved fairly quickly. After that there’s not much else for Paul to do.
However, Jenny is probably the weakest note in the entire picture, despite Paige’s best attempts. We get the impression early on that she’s not entirely happy working and living with her dad, and would like to go to college (she even fills out applications but doesn’t send them in, out of fear that her dad might not be supportive) but she doesn’t appear to have any ambitions or interests. Or at least we don’t see any. Of all the main characters we learn the least about her and so she doesn’t seem to serve much of a purpose.
For ninety minutes “Touchy Feely” proceeds to wander around from one mundane situation to the next, nothing much of interest happening in each one. Until it finally reaches its resolution, which—much like the rest of the movie—is underwhelming. The only major message I took away from the entire picture is that consuming tablets of ecstasy can help you get your life back on track. Like I said before, the movie isn’t all bad, the interactions between the characters feel perfectly natural and are handled without any melodrama. Also the acting overall is solid (especially Pais, whose mannerisms and tone of voice are shockingly normal. He doesn’t appear to be giving a performance) but in the end “Touchy Feely” amounts to very little.