“Touchy Feely”: A Family Embraces Not Embracing

Touchy Feely Lynn Shelton, before this the maker of Humpday and Your Sister's Sister, has a great knack for modest movies that are just high-concept enough. Shelton's Touchy Feely springs from a strong comedic hook: Just as a free-spirit massage therapist (Rosemarie DeWitt) discovers herself suddenly repulsed by human contact, her otherwise uptight dentist brother (Josh Pais) gets a reputation for a healing touch. In just about anybody else's hands, this would tip over into being too hooky, but Shelton's humane and breezy style lets characters seem like real people and funny moments play as drama as well. She's set the indie-movie gold standard for mocking New Age platitudes without condescension. Everywhere we'd expect some elbow-jabbing laugh cue or other reductive antics, as when a pair of Ecstasy pills appear, the tendency is to quiet things down and open them up. And with such space made available, soulful subtext comes pouring in. It's easy, for instance, to discern the source of the masseuse's malaise – a guy she's not quite sure about (Scoot McNairy) has just asked her to move in with him – but not so easy for her or anyone to process, and that's what makes the movie so good. Shelton also proves herself an extraordinary director of actors. With DeWitt and Pais as great as ever out in front, and the supporting cast including Ellen Page, Allison Janney, and Ron Livingston, everybody shines here, and not in a glaring way. Connectedness is the highest concept, and here's the simple, tough question: How does it feel?

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