Lynn Shelton specializes in the small-scale high concept. She has an eye for delicately observed moments and casual absurdities that spin around an obvious plot engine. Like her features "Humpday" and "Your Sister's Sister," her latest Seattle-set comic drama, "Touchy Feely," is a work that gestures toward depths without truly plumbing them. In its gentle way, it's also her broadest, most schematic film.
As the story of friends, family and identity crisis meanders toward its low-key feel-good conclusion, exceptionally lovely, nuanced performances by Rosemarie DeWitt and Allison Janney are the chief draw. DeWitt plays Abby, a gifted massage therapist who's uncertain about moving in with her boyfriend (Scoot McNairy) and becomes suddenly repulsed by the very thought of human touch. Silly macro close-ups of skin signify her emotional dislocation. A friend and mentor (Janney) provides guidance, Reiki energy work and a couple of Ecstasy pills, poised to go off like Chekhov's gun.
Abby's dentist brother acquires mysterious healing powers just as she loses hers, and the movie teeters at the edge of provocative questions about who gets to wear the mantle of healer. But the siblings' unsettling experiences play out as gimmicky switcheroo between polar personalities. She's intuitive and demonstrative; Paul (Josh Pais) is dithery and uptight, and blind to the way his daughter (Ellen Page) has put her life on hold.
With a flat-affect delivery not unlike Paul Lieberstein's in "The Office," Pais' performance is too stylized for the movie. He does, though, share some poignant moments of physical comedy with Janney — before they're reduced to rom-com montage. Shelton's affection for her characters is evident but it's not enough.
MPAA rating: R for language, some drug use and brief sexuality.
Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes.
Playing: At Sundance Sunset Cinemas, Los Angeles. Also on VOD.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times