Writer/director Lynn Shelton has had the critical acclaim deserving of her work, yet hasn’t quite yet gained the mainstream popularity that she’s worthy of. Shelton has created milestones in the mumblecore movement – a genre that has arguably passed but remains incredibly influential – but isn’t quite yet a household name. That’s not to say she hasn’t had an impressive career thus far. Her delightful 2011 comedy-drama romance Your Sister’s Sister starred Emily Blunt, Mad Men star Rosemarie Dewitt, and Mark Duplass of course, who also starred in her 2009 comedy hit Humpday. Yet her presence is about to get more prominent as her latest work – Lassies – boasts the presence of Kiera Knightley, Sam Rockwell and Chloe Grace Mortez. But names aside, what Shelton does best is character dramas on an intimate scale, the sort that don’t require big stars and might be frequently labelled as ‘indie’. Shelton is something of an all-encompassing auteur; she writes, directs and often acts in her films. Her main concern is naturalism and nuanced dialogue. Touchy Feely, which she wrote and directed, is a bittersweet comedy-drama about a family struggling with intimacy and communication.
In typically Shelton fashion, the plot is driven by the characters, their complexities and individual journeys. There are two plots going on in tandem here. Paul (Josh Pais), a reserved, uptight dentist with his own practice, unknowingly discovers a method to cure a painful oral ailment that floods customers to his otherwise struggling practice. Meanwhile, his usually free-spirited masseuse sister Abby suddenly develops a repellence for all human skin, causing her to have an anxiety-driven meltdown. Abby’s issues threaten her relationship with bike-shop owner Jessie, who her niece and Paul’s daughter Jenny (Ellen Page) is harbouring torturous feelings for. Ron Livingston also makes an appearance as Abby’s old flame, who she shares nostalgia with during a soul-searching, drug-fuelled afternoon.
Whilst the subject matter sounds forlorn, Touchy Feely enjoys funny moments. In particular a genius montage when Abby’s Reiki practitioner (Allison Janney), attempts to teach the art of healing to dentist Paul. His rigidity makes it an incredibly arduous task. The awkwardness and physical comedy is laugh-out-loud funny. It seems like Shelton works best with fewer characters and more free-wheeling dialogue. Touchy Feely is much quieter and more reflective than her previous works, which is a shame, as Shelton’s writing is incredibly sharp and to have it in abundance is always a treat. In Touchy Feely we gain insight into the characters by their actions rather than what is voiced. However that isn’t to say that it is without its own charm. The cast compliments one another, and it’s the second time Shelton has worked with Dewitt, a collaboration that works well and hopefully will reappear in the future. Shelton remains a name to shout about.