09/05/2013 07:42 am ET Updated Nov 05, 2013

Movie Review: Touchy Feely


Lynn Shelton obviously isn't a filmmaker whose work suits everyone's taste. With her lightly scripted, improvisational approach to movies, there's a certain shaggy quality to her work -- or at least to the films of hers I've seen (and liked): Humpday and Your Sister's Sister.

Add Touchy Feely to that list. Like her previous two films, it's a loose, occasionally leisurely tale, focusing less on plot than character. Shelton's secret is that she finds terrific actors to play those characters, to invest them with a depth and humanity (and wit) that makes their lives interesting, even when there's nothing big going on.

Not that there aren't things at stake in Touchy Feely: There are. It's just that the movie isn't about those stakes, but about the people dealing with them.

There's Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt), a massage therapist in a long-time relationship with a bike-shop owner named Jesse (Scott McNairy). Her brother, Paul (Josh Pais), is a widowed dentist whose practice is dwindling, something he refuses to acknowledge despite harping from his daughter (and amateur dental assistant), Jenny (Ellen Page).

One night at dinner, Jesse takes a major step, asking Abby to move in with him. It's as much of a commitment as either of them is ready for -- except that Abby obviously isn't. She suddenly develops an aversion -- nay, a revulsion -- when it comes to actually touching people. Kind of a career buzzkill for someone whose job involves healing with her hands.

At the same time, the uptight, uncommunicative Paul takes a step unwillingly (at Abby's behest), visiting a healer friend named Bronwyn (the invaluable Allison Janney), who practices reiki, a kind of psychic healing which actually seems to work on Paul. Indeed, he suddenly develops the ability to apply a healing touch of his own to patients suffering from TMJ.

If this were a Hollywood comedy, there would be misunderstandings, big reversals, slapstick and the like.

This review continues on my website.

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