Nat thought – it’s entertaining, it’s thought provoking and despite the presence of a priest, not really that preachy at all.
Finally, something I liked. I was beginning to worry about myself. The fact that this film involves a severely disabled man hiring a sex therapist in order to lose his virginity does not point to a deviant taste in entertainment. How very dare you.
If you were particularly observant with my title, you may have guessed The Sessions has Helen Hunt in it, who for a long time I’ve avoided because she’s always just so “Helen Hunt”. Do you know what I mean? Maybe I watched too many episodes of Mad About You in the 90’s and I’ve reached my lifetime limit of “Helen Hunt” and her high waisted denims. For a while I even took a sideways step from anything with Leelee Sobieski in it, because those two are so similar it’s freaky. Maybe Helen has a daughter she doesn’t know about, although how you’d forget squeezing a watermelon out of your va jay jay I don’t know.
So 25 minutes into The Sessions and there she was, Helen Hunt – taking off gardening gloves, answering a phone and yelling at her son in such a typical Helen Hunt way. I held my breath. Fuck. She’s doing “Helen Hunt”. And she has jeans on.
Oh, it’s OK, not high wasted. But luckily she soon stopped being Helen Hunt, started being Cheryl Cohen Green and I could breathe again.
The film is based on an essay by poet and writer Mark O’Brien who, after being confined to an iron lung for the bulk of his days, decides at age 38 he wants to lose his virginity. After a couple of rejections from the women in his life, he settles on a sex therapist instead.
Mark’s an endearing character, witty, intelligent and as the film wants us to believe, most women who meet him can’t seem to escape his charm. I think we’re supposed to be surprised by that last bit, then embarrassed at our small-minded prejudice that such a severely disabled man couldn’t possibly be attractive to women. But that was the only time I felt like I was being lectured.
John Hawkes does a brilliant job of making Mark all of the above, despite the, erm, handicap of spending the entire film on his back, with the only movement possible consisting of turning his head, and of course making his other head rise to the occasion when needed. Sorry. Bit far? And I have to say, Helen Hunt is great at not being Helen Hunt.
The sex and nudity is appropriately non-titillating. After all, Cheryl is a therapist, not a prostitute. We know this because we see her speaking into a Dictaphone and making notes on their sessions. Plus she says “I’m not a prostitute” in session one.
On the other hand, as Mark’s friend Father Brendan, William H Macy seems increasingly titillated by the whole thing. When Mark comes to him for advice, the Priest at first recoils at the idea of sex outside marriage. But after a good long three second think on it, he decides god would surely give Mark “a pass on this one”. So, just to reiterate, sex between man and woman is a sin if you’re not married, except if one of you is disabled and a middle- aged virgin.
There he is trying to hide his excitement.
In the end, it’s all a bit sentimental, verging on saccharine sometimes. And there are a couple of things which had me scratching my head, like why he doesn’t have a back-up generator for his iron lung and why are two characters barely explored. But after a few weeks of turning movies off half way through, I managed to get to the end of this one. So I’ll do as God does and give him a pass.