Sessions, The (2012)

Director: Ben Lewin
Cast: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy
Plot: A man in an iron lung who wishes to lose his virginity contacts a professional sex surrogate with the help of his therapist and priest.

Genre: Drama/Comedy/Romance
Awards: Won Audience Award and Special Jury Prize (Sundance). Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Supporting Actress
Runtime: 95min
Rating: R21 for strong sexuality including graphic nudity and frank dialogue.





“I believe in a God with a sense of humour. I would find it absolutely intolerable not to be to able blame someone for all this.”

The title of the film refers to several sexual encounters between a man and a woman. They aren't married to each other, but every week they have sex in someone's home or a motel room. The man pays the woman after each session. "This is not prostitution", the female character played by Helen Hunt asserts, "there is a difference."

Hunt plays Cheryl, a housewife-cum-sex therapist of sorts who helps John Hawkes' Mark O' Brien, a paralyzed, bed-ridden poet-journalist lose his virginity. While not quite the forty-year old virgin, but coming very close, Mark is a character that you will take pity on, with the film leaving a bittersweet experience when the end credits roll.

At its core, it is a short biographical account of a real person, but writer-director Ben Lewin has imbued his film with a strong sense of heartfelt comedy. It is easy to go into distastefulness, considering the copious amounts of explicit dialogue about sex and its process in the film. But Lewin's assured handling of tone make this an enjoyable adult dramedy.

The actors play their part too. Hawkes and Hunt show no signs of awkwardness in tackling the subject matter, including scenes involving full frontal nudity, as in the case of Hunt. Their performances are striking, and it is a travesty that Hawkes was not rewarded with an Oscar nomination for Best Leading Actor.

Films like The Sessions are rare in today’s cinema, in the sense that they are comfortable with broaching the topic of sex by pinning the essence of its narrative almost entirely in dramedy. In contrast, other films of recent years try to trivialize sex through crude comedy or by having the bulk of their narrative immersed in a conventional romantic plot. And you do get these movies throughout the year, sometimes even week in, week out. Thus, it is indeed refreshing to see a film like The Sessions done well.

It is also refreshing to see how theology is incorporated into the film, but more crucially, in a way that does not feel at all offensive. The role of Father Brendan as played by William H. Macy attempts to mediate, very often comically, between two seeming extremes – religion and sex – words that are not very often mentioned in the same breath. As Stephen Holden of The New York Times puts it, The Sessions is “a touching, profoundly sex-positive film that equates sex with intimacy, tenderness and emotional connection instead of performance, competition and conquest.”

The Sessions is a courageous account of a true story of a man who had to wait nearly forty years to lose his virginity. The filmmakers depict him as rising against all odds to overcome his physical disabilities – to be a man who is able to function socially, psychologically, and sexually like any other human being. It is a story that gives hope and inspiration, yet it reminds us that even though a person’s body may be inert, it is the person’s mind that ultimately gives life to that body.

Verdict: Hawkes and Hunt bare their bodies and their soul, giving terrific performances in this heartfelt comedy that is comfortable talking about sex.

GRADE: B+ (8/10 or 3.5 stars)

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