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Touchy Feely

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Director Lynn Shelton's Touchy Feely would have been more aptly titled Out of Touch. Almost all of its characters suffer some form of estrangement, and the most central one, Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt), is a massage therapist who suddenly finds herself disgusted by the prospect of touching her clients' skin. Though she counsels her brother, the meek dentist Paul (Josh Pais), and his daughter Jenny (Ellen Page, Juno) about how to improve their lives, she makes dubious choices for herself.

  Abby's strange new phobia is induced by anxiety over moving in with her boyfriend (Scoot McNairy, Argo). It's surprising since he's a very welcome and familiar figure among her family. She seeks the advice of an all-purpose new age-y counselor (Allison Janney, The West Wing, American Beauty), and eventually she steers Paul to her for a reiki cleanse and spiritual reading. As predictably awkward as that encounter is, it's funny in an understated way and, like most of the things that are enjoyable about the film, it has little to do with Abby.

  The film is set in Seattle, and the cinematography goes from panoramas with lush green forests and cloudy skied backgrounds to mesmerizing closeups of skin that almost seem like micro-panoramas of the tiny wrinkles and creases of flesh.

  Paul speaks to his patients with a droning faux cheer, and his practice is in decline, with an appointment calendar that's half empty. Still, he doesn't want Jenny to leave the nest or her work as his dental hygienist. He's not expressive, but Jenny understands and acquiesces to his wishes. Abby, Paul and Jenny all share one obstacle: They refuse to address their problems directly. Paul seems the most unlikely to make a bold step in any direction, but he reaches out and enjoys the wildest transformation this film could afford him, resulting in its biggest surprises and funniest moments. Page is saddled with a relatively smaller role, but she outshines everyone when she's hinting at Jenny's bottled up emotions and is even more impressive when Jenny opens up about her feelings.

  Though sure of herself when tying to help others get in touch with their feelings, Abby seems oblivious to some of her most obvious hang ups, which starts to strain credulity. DeWitt does a fine job in this role, but Abby is a frustrating character. It's much more entertaining and satisfying to watch Paul, Jenny and some of the minor characters. The solid cast makes the light drama engaging, even if it's unclear whether anyone will make an emotional breakthrough before their 90 minutes are up. Touchy Feely screens as part of the New Orleans Film Festival. — WILL COVIELLO

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