One of the growing genres in the independent scene is the improvisational film, or better known as mumblecore. While it’s hard to pinpoint an exact date or film in which this genre started, it really took off with the Duplass brother film The Puffy Chair. This inexpensive film debuted at Sundance, and made some major noise among critics. Personally, I feel that it’s one great film, which feels real and genuine in the best possible way. After that, the genre began to grow, with several directors and writers taking of note of this unique type of filmmaking. Perhaps my favorite in the mumblecore genre is Lynn Shelton.
While many in the mainstream likely don’t know who Lynn Shelton is, she is actually one of my favorite upcoming directors and writers today. Shelton is really someone who bends the roles of filmmaking, which is great to see. Shelton makes films that focus on character, simplistic at heart, with a gentle ambiance. She really throws out narrative structure, and tells a narrative in a very life-like way, that doesn’t feel scripted at all. In her short career, Shelton has had success with this. Her first film, Humpday was a solid debut, that really gave a look into the lines of friendship. The next film, Your Sister’s Sister took a step up, and was one of last year’s best films. Shelton’s latest Touchy Feely sadly misses the mark.
Touchy Feely follows a family who has lost connection, whether it be from a relationship, business, or just life itself.
The performances here are great. Rosemarie DeWitt after teaming with Shelton in Your Sister’s Sister gives another solid performance in this role here. Her character is similar to her character in that film, but feels more realized and in-depth. It’s almost like seeing that character in the future in a way. Long time character actor Josh Pais, who is best known as a Ninja Turtle, is the standout in the film. He is perfect at bringing that sort of lovable awkwardness to this character, and just makes him so great to watch. Ellen Page is a great young talent, and brings the quirk we know and love from her.
For Lynn Shelton, this is her best made film from a technical aspect. The mumblecore aspects are as natural as they every will be. The dialogue flows naturally, and there is absolutely no hint of anything other than natural. The film also looks great. Shelton along with long time cinematographer Benjamin Kasulke get great shots, from an empty expression by a character’s face, to great images of local town and city life. Not to mention, that gentle ambiance we all know and love from Shelton is still present.
Part of the problem in the film is the fact that the subplots in the film are actually far more interesting than the film’s main arc. While DeWitt does a good job, her arc is very much something we have seen or go through before, while Josh Pais gets less screen time, but has a far more interesting character and role in the film. Even some of the very minor characters in the film like Scoot McNairy and Allison Janney are very real and interesting characters, but are pushed out of the way for DeWitt’s arc.
Ron Livingston has a small role in the film, and it really is poorly handled. Livingston only has ten minutes of screen time, and his character is just underdeveloped and the ultimate plot device. Not only that, but he looks strikingly similar to Mark Duplass, which always confused me about Your Sister’s Sister.
One of the major problems in the film is just one of trying too hard. Shelton seems to have focused to such a degree on making this all feel very natural and realistic, that she forgets that she is even making a film. Touchy Feely is perhaps the least cinematic movie of the year; it hardly has an incident or any of the basics elements a film has. While this could work, Shelton just could not pull it off.
The film overall is a mess. With there being three arcs in the film, with several side characters, it could be hard to manage. We really do not get to learn much about these characters in general. Like I mentioned about Ron Livingston’s character in the film, there are just too many characters in the film that serve the purpose of just being a plot point. Ultimately we end up with three characters that seem like they require the time to be developed into standalone films, crammed into one film. Even though making a film about Josh Pais’s dentist character would be a bit hard to do.
The theme in the film is weak. First off, just by looking at the title of the film, you could easily tell what the film is trying to say with the film’s theme, which basically means losing “touch”. Shelton here, who really knows how to go in-depth with her themes, gives a very basic level of what the film is trying to say. Not only that, but the film even failed to follow through on some of the interesting concepts and ideas it brings up about the theme, and just ends in a very safe, cop-out sort of way.
Minor complaint: Shelton has always had some great comedy in her films, that fit naturally in within the drama. Touchy Feely, though, does not have nearly the same amount of comedic material, which is disappointing to see, considering the skill Shelton has at writing comedic material.
While Lynn Shelton brings the same style matched with good performances, Touchy Feely just does not have the same touch that Shelton is known for.
Take a Drink: whenever the characters drink.
Take a Shot: when a character mentions TMJ.
Take a Drink: during the scene where the characters take ecstasy.