Kurt Loder Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Tickled

Much stranger than fiction.


Magnolia Pictures

You'd think that any film that kicked off in the world of fetish tickling videos would be content to stick with its colorful subject. But Tickled, a head-spinning documentary that begins on the fringes of that strange scene—with hunky young guys being held down by other hunky young guys to have their nipples flicked and their feet feathered—is just getting started. In peeling back the layers of its bizarre story, the picture grows dark, and then much darker, and more and more disturbing. Among several other things, this is a mini-master class in investigative journalism, in an era that no longer prizes that costly undertaking.

David Farrier, the movie's co-director, is an unlikely hard-news hound. In his native Auckland, New Zealand, Farrier is a cheery "lifestyle" TV reporter, a toiler in the trenches of froth, chatting up the guy who eats live frogs or the woman who calls herself "the donkey lady." Human oddity is his beat, and he's always alert to its latest manifestations.

One day, clicking around the Internet, he comes upon a video devoted to "Competitive Endurance Tickling." Farrier is engrossed. The production company—an outfit called Jane O'Brien Media—is soliciting headshots from "young athletes" aged 18 to 24 to take part in the company's monthly tickling events in Los Angeles. Those selected to compete will be flown in free from anywhere in the world, put up in a fancy hotel, and given $1500 in cash.

Farrier feels a story coming on. He emails Jane O'Brien Media, requesting an interview. The response is startlingly harsh. Someone has clearly researched Farrier, and learned that he is openly gay. An O'Brien communiqué says that the company's tickling competitions are "passionately and exclusively heterosexual," and that any "association with a homosexual journalist is not something we will embrace." She also calls Farrier "a little gay kiwi" and, to be entirely clear, a "faggot."

Now Farrier is really interested. He brings in his friend Dylan Reeve, an Internet savant with a TV background of his own. Reeve discovers that Jane O'Brien's site is owned by a German company that maintains 300 other tickling domains. He and Dylan begin blogging about all this, and soon receive a letter from a New York lawyer threatening a lawsuit unless they stop poking around in Jane O'Brien's business. The company next dispatches three men to Auckland to make this point in person. These emissaries are not happy to find Farrier waiting to greet them at the airport with a cameraman in tow (he is now shooting this documentary, with Reeve as his co-director). "We're not gonna have a good time if you do this," one of the men says, rather menacingly. Farrier is warned that "there's a lot of money" behind the O'Brien operation, and that he should be sure that "whatever you plan to do is gonna be worth the trouble that this person is gonna put you through."

Now the film takes off in a wholly unexpected direction. Working with Kickstarter funds (and later a grant from the New Zealand Film Commission), Farrier and Reeve and their shooter, Dominic Fryer, fly to L.A. for the next O'Brien tickling competition, which they've learned is being held at a downtown video studio. Bluntly rebuffed at the door, they instead locate a former tickling contestant, a young man called J.T., who recounts how the O'Brien company put what he thought were his audition tapes up on YouTube without his permission. When he objected, J.T. says, the company did everything it could to try to ruin his life. ("Your family better watch out….")

Next, Farrier and company fly to Orlando to visit a man named Richard Ivey, who runs his own tickling-video company. Ivey explains that tickling is a sort of bondage-lite—it's all about dominance and excruciation. Ivey recalls that many years ago he made an online connection with a woman named Terri Tickle, who was posting her own all-boy videos on the Internet. This leads us to a low-level Hollywood casting director named Davis Starr, who went to work for Terri Tickle back in the late '90s. Starr eventually became disgusted with Terri's cruel exploitation of her video subjects, and he quit. In response, Terri sent out incredibly abusive messages to people he knew—and even his mother—describing him as a "hairy, horny and hook-nosed homosexual pornographer." Farrier is startled—Terri Tickle, who has since vanished, sounds an awful lot like Jane O'Brien.

But who are these people, really? No one has ever met Jane or Terri face to face. And what about that German tickle-video empire? With legal threats piling up, Farrier and Reeve persist, using classic investigative methods: exhaustive research, endless phone calls, extensive travel, and a bold willingness to confront sometimes obstreperous players on-camera. In the end, they finally penetrate to the heart of this twisted mystery, confronting an individual so unsavory, one recoils in disbelief.

Farrier continues to be harried by lawsuits (the latest papers were served at a documentary festival in Missouri last March). But he's never backed down, and Magnolia Pictures and HBO, the distributors of his film, have been equally steadfast. We can be grateful for that. Tickled—a combination detective thriller, horror story, and exercise in raw social observation—is a stunning piece of work. Despite its jocular title, the movie is no laughing matter.

NEXT: Judge Upholds Suspension of the Pop-Tart Gun Kid

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  1. Thanks for doing the job no one else wants to and no I am not reading that.

    1. You should – it sounds engrossing.

      1. Agreed. I wasn’t interested at first, but dang.

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    2. The even more important job of creating the gay-equivalent term for “chick flick” left undone.

      “Fab Film”.

      1. An O’Brien communiqu? says that the company’s tickling competitions are “passionately and exclusively heterosexual,”

        The company seems to be denying any gayness in hot guys tickling each other.

        1. “Passionately and exclusively heterosexual” is definitely going on my business card.

          1. You’re no fun.

            1. That’s already on my business card.

              1. “NOT Available For Parties”

                1. There are actually a lot of parties like a Citizen X party, ’cause a Citizen X party ends at a reasonable hour!

        2. There’s definitely some serious denial going on. Approaching Omar Mateen levels.

          1. Denial to the documentarian. The company knows exactly what its product is.

    3. I well done documentary about a subject you have no interest in can be very interesting. There are so many weird subcultures and people and goings on in the world that I’ve never even thought about. This sounds like just that sort of thing.

      1. I’m pretty sure I’m just not a documentary guy, so the subject really has to be captivating for me. In Search of General Tso, the Lego Brickumentary, Wild China, Blue Planet.

        Anything involving politics, social issues or mobsters is right out.

  2. O’Brien’s site is owned by a German company that maintains 300 other tickling domains.

    Three *hundred*?

    Koochie koo!

  3. Reeve discovers that Jane O’Brien’s site is owned by a German company that maintains 300 other tickling domains

    Tickling seems like a pretty tame porno subject, for Germany.

    1. It’s just a business. The Germans aren’t watching the content.

      1. “For Export Only”

  4. German Tickle Mafia. The first documentary in a year that actually sounds interesting.

  5. I guess I’m having trouble seeing the outrage. People are doing this voluntarily and being compensated.

    1. the latest papers were served at a documentary festival in Missouri last March

      There’s a lot of very pertinent info missing from this review. That’s a hint, but there’s no beef here- what lawsuits, where, on what basis?

      1. From what I gather, that’s the mystery that they’re trying to uncover. No “outrage”, just WTF are they hiding.

        1. The documentary makers are being sued (so the review implies). It would seem to me that perhaps a bit more info here would be useful, rather than dwelling on nip tickling.

      2. There is a lot of pertinent information missing from most movie reviews. That’s kind of how they work. Otherwise people bitch about spoilers.

        1. Well what good is a spoiler unless you’ve got a rear-wheel drive vehicle?

          1. I’ve often wondered that when I see some Honda Civic with a spoiler on it. Some people just really want to look like dicks, I guess.

            1. +1 $5000 car with $10000 of aftermarket modifications

          2. Even if the rear wheels aren’t driven, they still need to be in firm contact with the road. Unload the rear end too much and handling is going to get squirelly. So yeah, a spoiler can serve a purpose even on a FWD. Sure, most of them you see on the street are strictly for looks, but not all.

            Just for the record, my car does have a big-ass wing on the back. But don’t blame me, it came from the factory like that. And the rear wheels are driven. As a bonus, it’s really easy to spot in parking lots.

  6. I don’t think this phenomenon has a name akin to “Streisand Effect” yet (maybe we can call it the “Popehat Effect”?), but surely people like “O’Brien’s site” are learning that, for every paid lawyer you can send to intimidate me, I can find ten lawyers over the Internet who will fight you on my behalf for free — especially if a First Amendment issue like “freedom of the press” is involved.

    1. Which is all fine and dandy if you are in the U.S. but internationally the laws on speech can be ridiculous. Also, this has a ‘revenge porn’ type of angle where the producer tries to ruin your life if you speak out against the company or question its methods. Laws which protect individuals are equally murky.

  7. I wasn’t going to read the review, but the comments suggested it might be worthwhile. Y’all better not be yanking my chain…

    1. Wow, sounds gritty…who knew pornographers could be so disreputable?

    2. you read the comments and ignore the articles? maybe the commentariat has finally separated completely from the mothership?

  8. In the end, they finally penetrate to the heart of this twisted mystery, confronting an individual so unsavory, one recoils in disbelief.


    1. …well now you’re just being silly. In fact, I think you should apologize to unsavory pornographers for saying that one could be THAT bad.

  9. I’m not gonna watch the movie but I’m going to guess that at the end the twist is that Tickle-Me-Elmo turns out to be Grover’s imaginary alter ego.

    1. First rule of Tickle Club: You don’t talk about Tickle Club!

  10. Makes me wonder if this isn’t some more involved Spinal Tap.

    1. Yep, this movie reeks of fake documentary. Very convienent controversy for a topic nobody has ever heard of.

      Also, as somewhat of an amateur afficianado of porn, pretty sure I would have run across this sorta thing long before this.

      Also, never heard of this in Hollywood, and I know more than my fair share of guys with perfect gym bodies, actors, models and physical trainers who’d be jumping up for joy at even the hint of an easy gig like this. Where Brian Singer’s pool parties and Zack Synder’s wife being his beard are well known, this is completely lightweight and would have made the gossip rounds.

  11. Dammit Loder, now I am excited to see a movie that is never going to play in a theater near me.

    1. Actually, it’s opening pretty wide throughout July — maybe one of these is a city near you: http://www.magpictures.com/tickled/

    2. It’s being distributed by HBO, so maybe it’s available through them?

    3. You’ll be able to see it online eventually.

      It’ll probably be in Netflix.

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  13. “Farrier is startled?Terri Tickle, who has since vanished, sounds an awful lot like Jane O’Brien.”

    The tactics used to intimidate critics are reminiscent of what you hear about Scientology.

    1. Or the government.

  14. OK, I am really intrigued and want to see this.

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