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 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 primarily 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.