Touchy Feely

By Di Golding

Mailed on April 15, 2014

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Dear Kelsey Wood
Biking Lifestyle Consultant

Dear Kelsey,

Biking Lifestyle Consultant seems a nebulous yet professional sounding title, the kind of thing you murmur to someone you're trying to impress at a Citizen Dick concert. I noticed on IMDB, you're also listed as the sound mixer, sound designer and supervising sound editor. This is probably good for you, because curiously, we don't actually see any cycling in Touchy Feely, which leads me to believe 'biking lifestyle consultant' doesn't exactly pay the rent.

In the credits your name comes after a Reiki consultant, a massage therapy consultant and two dental consultants, all of whose contributions are relevant and obvious in a film about the importance and power of healing. Perhaps your skills were more 'lifestyle' than 'biking' and helped lay the foundation that informed the backstory for Jesse, the sensitive, New Age boyfriend of the main character. It is, after all, his casual suggestion that acts as a subtle catalyst that pushes the characters down their unsolicited paths.

Abby is a thriving massage therapist who works in Seattle, one floor below her friend/mentor Bronwyn, a Reiki master. Abby's nebbish brother Paul, and his mousy daughter Jenny, work at Paul's failing dental practice. Jenny, though devoted to her dad, longs for a life of her own and a guy she can't have. When Jesse asks Abby to move in with him, she develops a growing aversion to human contact. As Abby's life and livelihood crumble, Paul's business booms when he suddenly gains the ability to cure people's pain.

On the page, this plot sounds a tad Freaky Friday, what with brother and sister trading traits, but its really about two very different people on parallel journeys to personal awakening. Director Lynn Shelton lets the story develop organically, without pointing out the interpersonal relationships plainly, forcing the audience to pay attention to a plot that otherwise meanders like a pensioner steering his Schwinn through a quaint country lane. There are no villains here, only emotional dragons to slay. It is mumble to the core.

Thankfully, the performances grind the gears of this quiet film into overdrive. Abby, on the surface all crunchy 90s grunge, with hemp-wool hats and fun-fur vest, seems a cliche, but Rosemarie DeWitt makes her flakiness endearing rather than irritating. Scoot McNairy plays Jesse's puppy-like devotion to Abby as a strength, rather than a weakness; cooking tofu casseroles and offering back rubs while they struggle to understand her ailment. Was that your influence? More importantly, was that your tofu recipe?

All this hippie-dippiness would be too much to take were it not for the brilliant Josh Pais as milquetoast Paul, who is the very essence of normalcore. He makes Paul's passive rigidity almost painful to watch yet never lets him veer into caricature. The scenes of Allison Janney's Bronwyn, teaching Paul how to do Reiki, are hilarious, touching and far too short. It's Paul's growth, from meek man-child to an adult finally comfortable in his own skin, that makes the film's frustrating pace worth the trouble.

There are many moments throughout the film where we see bicycles, but never in use. Jesse even works at a cycle shop and yet the frames rest against the wall, wheels frozen. If there is a polar opposite to Chekov's Gun, it would be Jesse's Bike. I kept waiting for something bigger to happen here, but wasn't necessarily disappointed when it didn't. Watching an amiable group of people whose lives are like those resting bikes that finally get out for a spin was joyride enough. Not the Tour de France, mind you, but a lovely Sunday in the park.

Keep up the pace,


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