Touchy Feely

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Touchy Feely Movie Poster Image
Disappointing indie drama portrays drug use positively.
  • R
  • 2013
  • 89 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages
It's not clear what this movie is trying to say, other than that people need to connect with one another. And it more or less advocates the use of Ecstasy, as two adult siblings use the drug with positive experiences and no repercussions.
Positive Role Models & Representations
One supporting character is a massage therapist and a healer who seems selfless and helpful and genuinely concerned with others' well-being. She's something of an inspiration. The rest of the characters aren't especially admirable.
In one scene, an angry customer barges into a dental office and rants about having been ripped off. He hyperventilates, passes out, recovers, and leaves without actually touching anyone. In another scene, a boyfriend and girlfriend share a mildly agitated conversation. A dentist accidentally hurts one of his patients, and a little blood is shown in his mouth.
A couple has sex in a bathroom. They're shown from the chest up, fully clothed, but they're clearly having sex. Sex noises are heard outside the bathroom door. In another scene, the woman asks the man to take his shirt off, and he does, but she leaves before it goes any further. Two ex-lovers run into each other at a park and discuss an old sexual encounter. The movie opens on a close-up of a massage, but it's more naturalistic than sensual.
"F--k" is heard twice, and one of those times is half-heard, shouted from another room. Other language includes infrequent use of "s--t," "goddamn," and "dumbass."
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Two adult characters take Ecstasy and it affects them in a positive way, putting them more in touch with their inner selves and enabling them to relate to others in a new way. The movie ends on the positive effects of this drug, with no downside; it more or less advocates using it. Characters are also occasionally shown drinking wine with dinner and smoking cigarettes outside a nightclub.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Touchy Feely is an indie drama about an adult brother and sister and their problems connecting with others. In the movie, both characters wind up taking Ecstasy and having a very positive experience from it; it practically solves their problems, and the movie doesn't show any negative consequences -- which could be interpreted as advocating the drug's use. Sex is also an issue: A couple is shown sneaking into a bathroom and having sex, though no graphic nudity is shown. There's some strong language, including two uses of "f--k" and one "s--t." Violence isn't much of an issue except for a scene in which a dental patient throws a temper tantrum in a waiting room. A tiny amount of blood is shown in a scene in the dentist's chair. Ultimately, this is a very strange, unsatisfying movie that's aimed at adults and is unlikely to appeal to many teens.

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What's the story?

Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt) is a successful massage therapist who suddenly develops an aversion to touching human skin, which prevents her from working. This also affects her relationship with her boyfriend, Jesse (Scoot McNairy), even though they were planning on moving in together. Meanwhile, Abby's withdrawn brother, dentist Paul (Josh Pais), suddenly finds that he has the ability to cure his patients who have TMJ pain, and his failing business springs back to life. These twists in the characters' lives cause them to re-assess their connections with others, including Paul's daughter, Jenny (Elliot Page), and Abby's colleague, Bronwyn (Allison Janney). A flirtation with Ecstasy also brings new realizations.

Is it any good?

It's puzzling that Lynn Shelton followed up her successful Your Sister's Sister with such a strange, muddled failure. Your Sister's Sister was an impressively intuitive movie, totally in touch with its characters, their surroundings, and their inner emotions. TOUCHY FEELY begins as four characters gather for dinner, and it's not entirely clear who they are or how they know one another. This shapeless quality continues throughout, as the movie employs a kind of supernatural device -- Abby's sudden revulsion to skin and Paul's sudden ability to heal -- in a naturalistic setting.
What's more, the movie doesn't really go anywhere with these weird changes. Supporting characters, like Page's Jenny, don't have much to do. Shelton incorporates lazy montages and odd dead-ends, and everything comes down to a dreamy, Ecstasy-fueled exploration that simply ends the movie. With such aimlessness, the characters are often lost, and many moments are strained. Only singer Tomo Nakayama provides a moment of gravity.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the characters' use of the drug Ecstasy in Touchy Feely. Is it portrayed as a positive experience? Is there a negative side to it? What are some realistic consequences of drug use?
  • Is there any such thing as a "healing touch"? What's special about humans connecting through touch?
  • How does the movie portray sex? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.
  • Does the movie's violent scene -- the angry dental patient -- seem out of place? Why or why not?

Movie details

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