Unrated, 3 stars
Directors are challenged enough big time, in attempting to connect successfully with audiences in terms of what they want to say, via visuals and talk on screen. So imagine the even greater formidable task, when evoking drama and emotions through tactile communication in a movie.
And with few resources on hand, Minh Duc Nguyen’s already going for broke Touch does just that, as seemingly the little indie that could. While summoning life’s simple pleasures and magnified human pain, through sensory feelings as received experience. And emanating as a vividly realized dramatic point of departure from of all places, a neighborhood nail salon.
Porter Lynn is Tam in Touch, a Vietnamese-American recent graduate, trained as a manicurist. And hired at a local LA nail salon filled with gabby female co-workers resentful of her educated, methodical dedication. Which they tend to view as a job pretty much just painting nails.
So when a man nervously turns up on this female turf in soiled work clothes and greasy nails, the oddball customer is assigned to workforce pariah Tam, much to her unspoken displeasure. And when questioned by Tam as to the nature of his visit, Brendan (John Ruby) confesses with pained embarrassment that he’s an auto mechanic who wants his grease caked nails cleaned, in order to save his failing marriage.
Which seems to be disintegrating for some time now, due to a lot more than his wife’s aversion to sexual contact with soiled hands. Serious class difference loom between them, a couple that married too young and then went their separate socio-economic ways, metaphorically speaking. As lawyer Sandie (Melinda Bennett) has been doing the workaholic thing up the corporate ladder, while Brendan stayed stuck sizing up spark plugs for a living.
And since Brendan has been a sex-starved guy for far too long, the manual professional caresses of Tam – herself a brooding loner denied physical warmth in childhood that steered her into her chosen vocation in the first place – a very different set of sparks start to fly between them. And which leads to Tam arranging unauthorized home visit manicures for this eager regular customer back at her pad. Where Tam expands her repertoire of touching tips for Brendan to practice on her, as a way of winning back his wife’s affections. Even though both kinky instructor and more than willing student, despite their best intentions, can barely resist one another in the process.
As flaky as the premise of Touch may be, Nguyen nails it, so to speak. With genuinely heartfelt determination to craft a story sensuously steeped in the tenderly visceral side of romance usually overlooked in movies, while saving this stereotype-defying tale from veering into contrivance. As it refreshingly detours as well, around those dragon lady career women and China doll stock female caricatures that other movies seem to so readily succumb, more often than not.