Sunday, October 14, 2012

“The Sessions”–Movie Review



This weekend in my movie class, we saw the comedy-drama “The Sessions” starring Helen Hunt, John Hawkes and William H. Macy.


When a man in an iron lung decides to hire a sex surrogate in order to lose his virginity, he begins to fall in love with her – but will her professional ethics keep her from reciprocating?



At the age of 38, Mark (Hawkes) has had a challenging life – diagnosed with Polio when he was only six years of age, he has spent most of his life in an Iron Lung to assist his breathing.  With his muscles completely atrophied, he can only be transported when a hired attendant pushes him in a gurney.  Deeply religious – after a fashion, anyway – he is taken to the local Catholic church periodically to meet with Father Brendan (Macy), the parish priest who hears his confession and eventually becomes a confidante.  Knowing his time on earth will be severely limited due to his condition, Mark reveals to Father Brendan that he has hired a professional sex surrogate named Cheryl (Hunt) in order to help him lose his virginity before it’s too late. 

Upon receiving Father Brendan’s blessing, Mark begins to see Cheryl, who informs him that they are strictly limited to six sessions together.  While it is common for many men in Mark’s situation to have difficulty achieving and maintaining an erection, this proves to be no obstacle for him – his problem, however, is that he instead suffers from premature ejaculation, causing his first session with Cheryl to finish abruptly.  Subsequently, however, she teaches him to relax, to calm down and to re-focus his attention elsewhere so that he can both enjoy and prolong the moment.  Eventually, a mutual trust develops between the two, culminating in Mark confessing to Cheryl that despite knowing that she is married, he has fallen in love with her and wishes to develop a real relationship with her outside of his therapy sessions. 

Normally, Cheryl would know how to handle situations like this because she’s an experienced, well – trained professional.  In the case with Mark, however, this turns out to be more of a challenge than she had suspected because his revelation has caused her to acknowledge that she has also developed feelings for him, as well.  As a result, she violates her own rules by allowing Mark to see her outside the context of their professional relationship, as well as to contact her at home.  When Cheryl’s husband Josh (Adam Arkin) discovers this, a huge argument ensues, but Cheryl is determined not to let Josh’s jealousy interfere with her treatments with Mark.  But will Cheryl allow Mark to come between her and Josh or will she be able to maintain her professionalism all throughout their remaining sessions together?



Based on a true story, “The Sessions” takes place in  the year 1988, by way of explaining how a 38 year old man could be debilitated by the disease Polio, which was long-ago wiped out.  Although the above poster clearly states that this movie is based on a true story, the film itself does not admit to this until the end; this winds up having an impact on how you experience the story, as our class wound up discussing after the screening.  For one thing, it was mentioned, since you don’t learn this at the outset, you may find yourself questioning the likelihood of certain events in the movie.  However, if the audience is informed up front that the film is based on a true story, then you are in a sense viewing this film through a prism of reality, thus lending it greater credibility. 

This is where the disconnect I had with “The Sessions” begins because I found it difficult to believe that a man in an iron lung could get women to fall in love with him – especially when the woman in this case is a professional sex surrogate, whom you would expect to be fully equipped to deal with a client’s matter of what is known in the world of psychology as “Transference”.  Yet it was apparently all completely true.  If you can somehow manage to get yourself past such admitted skepticism, then you will likely enjoy “The Sessions” as the bittersweet love story that it sets itself up to be. 

There are good performances in this movie, by Hunt and Macy especially.  Even if the film does not manage to be commercially successful, some members of its cast may wind up getting noticed come awards time.  That said, given what we now know about a number of Catholic priests, it seemed to me to be a little creepy that Macy’s character is enjoying a vicarious sex life through one of his parishioners; and yet, the irony is not lost on us that just as Cheryl is Mark’s sex surrogate, Mark is – in a sense – Father Brendan’s sex surrogate, too.  I expect that Mr. Skin will have a field day with this one given that Helen Hunt has quite a few full-frontal-nudity scenes. 


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