The Bye Bye Man
The Bye Bye Man is the kind of film that is so boring and bereft of anything of possible interest that it becomes infuriating.
This gentle, small film had me thinking of E.M. Forster's exhortation to "Only connect!" (from his novel "Howard's End"). Two of the main characters in this film connect intimately with people for a living, and their differing approaches to that connection form the crux of the story. Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt) is a massage therapist whose life seems centered and complete. Her professional touch is an extension of her whole way of being. Her brother Paul (Josh Pais) is a dentist who is only really comfortable when he is performing his job. The way he cleans a dental mold speaks of the happy craftsman, but his interactions with Abby and with his daughter Jenny (Ellen Page) are so awkward that for a while you may wonder, as I did, if the character is meant to have the condition du jour for film and television, Asperger's Syndrome.
And then something strange happens. Abby's boyfriend Jesse (Scoot McNairy) suggests, in an heartfelt but unthought-out moment at dinner with her brother and niece, that Abby should move in with him. And Abby begins to dread touching people. As you can imagine, this is a catastrophic problem for a massage therapist, and for Abby it triggers an existential crisis. She can't stand to be touched by Jesse. She can't do her job. She stares at her skin (in wonderful closeups), seeing the strange landscape that is skin.
Meanwhile, Paul, whose dental practice is foundering because he's unwilling to do anything to get new clients, also experiences a strange change. Jenny—who also works as her father's dental assistant, though she clearly longs to do something else—persuades Henry (Tomo Nakayama), a barista from her favorite coffee place, to come in for a free checkup. He's got jaw pain, he admits. Jenny praises her father's miraculous touch, and in fact Paul's touch cures Henry's pain. In short order, Paul has a waiting room full of people hoping he can stop their jaw pain.
The premise has a touch of fairy-tale whimsy to it, but Lynn Shelton, whose previous "Humpday" and "Your Sister's Sister" also dealt with close relationships facing an unexpected disruption, is more interested in the human dimension that anchors fairy tales. What would it do to you if you lost the thing that made your life complete? Or, what would it do to you if you could suddenly see your own greater potential?