I think this film is pretty relevant to Valentine’s Day—not just in the sense that everyone needs to be loved, but that everyone has the desire, the sheer need, to be touched. While sometimes repressed and while sometimes that need is one we deny to ourselves, all it takes to know it’s there is to actually feel it. It is this fascinating part of human nature that director and screenwriter Minh Duc Nguyen explores up many layers through his debut narrative feature Touch.
Touch is a story seen through the scope of Vietnamese manicurists and their everyday interactions with clients from varying backgrounds. It’s definitely not a point of view orchestrated much in the world of film, and Nguyen creates a storyline that’s rich, complex, and unique, yet universal in tapping into the yearning for connection. With another perspective told from the other side of the salon table, the result of two worlds colliding and the examinations of their individual tales bring to light the shared feelings and reactions sparked by one sense.
Set in Los Angeles, Touch follows the newest hire at a nail salon, the shy Tam (Porter Lynn). During one of her first shifts, she meets Brendan (John Ruby), a mechanic who asks her to get motor oil off his hands and underneath his fingernails. Brendan’s case is that he needs to do it for his wife Sandie (Melinda Bennett), a frequently stressed-out office professional who has voiced her displeasure about his filthy hands. As Sandie seemingly becomes more distant, Brendan starts seeing Tam on a frequent basis, both to get his hands and nails cleaned and to seek her advice about saving his marriage. The two become quite drawn to each other and even after Brendan’s marriage warms up again, his visits start to become more about Tam’s touch and how she makes him feel.
It sounds almost erotic on type, but in watching it, there’s a much deeper connection to be felt and will be understood, thanks to Nguyen’s well-crafted script and how well the cast conveys their characters’ longings for that physical touch as a gesture of acceptance. There’s another side of Touch that delves into the need to feel connected with family, depicted in the relationship with Tam and her father (Long Nguyen). Wheelchair-bound and pessimistic, Tam’s father rejects her, despite her weekly efforts to take care of him and clean his house. Through flashbacks and exchanges in the present-day, a lot is revealed about Tam, her father, and her deceased mother. First-time feature film actress Lynn and well-established actor Nguyen are at their best in this aspect of Touch, turning in the film’s most intense scenes and capturing the agony of how past troubles and mistakes lead to guilt in the present, as well as jeopardize any future.
Tossed in with the intimacy in blossoming friendships and the widening spaces in withering relationships, there is some sassy and raunchy humor in the forms of Tam’s co-workers at the salon. Though only in small roles, these characters offer a welcome lightness and more importantly, a few more stories from workers most interact with but never get to really know. There is a little bit of all things humorous, sexy, romantic, dramatic, and even unpredictable in this multidimensional and enticing contemporary film, and there’s no more exquisite way to realize the impact of the human touch, a common ground for all to relate to.
‘Touch’ is part of SFIAAFF30’s Narrative Competition, showcasing the diversity of Asians in America through works of fiction and inspired by life and imagination. Click here for tickets and showtimes.