It’s no secret that Hollywood marginalizes actresses. Women protagonists were so rare in movies this summer it was as if they’d been banned, and during awards season, any list of potential Best Actor nominees tends to dwarf the Best Actress contenders. The indie world, on the other hand, has always been a lot more female-friendly. This week there are two examples: Lynn Shelton’s Touchy Feely, starring Rosemarie DeWitt as a Seattle massage therapist with issues that are anything but skin-deep, and Anne Fontaine’s Adore, which teams Naomi Watts and Robin Wright as Aussie best friends who share a secret, scandalous bond. Given the dearth of decent roles for women, you can almost be grateful to look at these movies and say: One out of two ain’t bad.
The casting of Rosemarie DeWitt as Debra Winger’s daughter in Rachel Getting Married felt just right, because DeWitt, with her brunet earthiness, her merry eyes that can turn dagger-dangerous, has the kind of brainy sensual avidity that Winger did when she was the most vital actress Hollywood had going. In Touchy Feely, DeWitt brings that radiance to the role of Abby, a conventional soul who’s hiding her anxiety — even from herself. Abby gives tantric massages, and also gets them from Bronwyn, an aging hippie (Allison Janney, acting mellow for a change), all to keep herself centered. But when Jesse (Scoot McNairy), her boho bike-shop-repairman boyfriend, asks her to move in with him, and she agrees, she falls apart. She suddenly can’t touch anyone’s skin, because she’s so uncomfortable in her own.
Shelton, who made Humpday (2009) and Your Sister’s Sister (2011), is a better director than screenwriter. She’s out to portray Abby as under attack from the kind of irrational fear of life that can’t be articulated. But one of the reasons we go to the movies is so that they can articulate this stuff. DeWitt, however, makes it work; she turns Abby into a humble expression of the basket case in all of us. And Shelton has tart fun surrounding Abby with a family of neurotics who have inner healing to do themselves. As Paul, her uptight dentist brother, that ace dweeb Josh Pais grows on you, especially when he goes to Bronwyn for a Reiki message, and Ellen Page, as Paul’s sweetly stunted daughter, sheds her hyper-talk mannerisms and acts with a winning new softness. Touchy Feely is minor, but these people are good company. B (Also available on VOD)