IN THEATERS (SF) – “Tickled”

rsz_tickled-620x337Tickled (2016; Dir.: David Farrier and Dylan Reeve)

GRADE: B+

By Daniel Barnes

*Opens Friday at the Landmark Embarcadero in San Francisco and the Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley.

In a crowded marketplace for documentaries, it’s easy to to overpraise bold formal and visual ambitions, and easy to overlook a more conventional film that simply takes a juicy story and runs with it.  A disposable viral video story about “Competitive Endurance Tickling” by New Zealand pop culture reporter David Farrier puts the story of Tickled in motion, as Farrier receives a hostile and homophobic response from the shadowy multinational company that produced the  tickling footage.  Unwilling to submit to “bullies with way too much power,” Farrier follows them down a “tickling wormhole” that reaches from the practically post-apocalyptic streets of Muskegon to the boardrooms of Wall Street.  Much like last year’s left-field gem Finders Keepers, Tickled takes a tabloid-ready tale and turns it into something thematically rich and unexpectedly emotional.  Despite the tickling fetish trappings, the film essentially touches on themes of power and pornography – the untouchable bankrollers, the vulnerable onscreen talent, the procurers and producers just trying to make a buck – and forms into a salacious portrait of obscene privilege run amok.  We get the impression that Farrier’s work as a reporter generally lacks substance, but he’s smart enough to prevent Tickled from becoming the story of heroic journalist David Farrier discovering his true whatever – Farrier and collaborator Dylan Reeve chase an irresistibly entertaining story, rather than their own tails.