The Sessions Review: Let’s Talk About Sex

11168293_detAs wildly inappropriate as it is to quote Salt-N-Peppa at the beginning of a review for this serious of a film, it’s a sentiment that this movie puts forward at every turn.  I’ve seen some very graphic and occasionally uncomfortable movies in my days, but I’ve never seen something quite as unabashed and unapologetic as The Sessions.  Our society has an incredible double standard when it comes to sex, one which both trivializes it and makes it taboo at the same time.  We prevent our movies and TV shows from talking explicitly about sex or showing nudity in the fear that it will cross peoples’ lines of decency, yet at the same time you’d have to look very hard to find shows or movies that don’t reference it or revolve around it.  For mainstream media, sex is completely suitable as a source of drama or comedy, yet we still act like going the extra step of talking about it without innuendo or censorship would be indecent.  The Sessions has a very different view of the subject, offering forward one of the most frankly honest depictions of the act I’ve ever seen on screen.  With the help of a strong focus on its characters’ humanity and some amazing performances from its three leads, The Sessions is an incredibly moving film despite it’s incredibly uncomfortable subject matter.

The Plot:

Want to remove someone's sex appeal?  Those Glasses will work

Want to remove someone’s sex appeal? Those Glasses will work

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.

The most significant detail of the plot is that it flips the usual order of Love and Sex.  As a result, it starts out by dealing with sex as nothing more than a natural part of the human body rather than a sign of love or affection.  This will probably prove to be the most uncomfortable aspect of the movie for a lot of people, seeing as audiences are fairly used to nudity at this point but not used to this kind of a frame for it.

The Players:

people had interesting shirt pattern preferences in the 70's

I’d give a lot for Mark’s positive outlook, but he can keep the shirts

The fact that John Hawkes didn’t get an Oscar Nomination for his performance here is exclusively a reflection of how crowded the category was this year, not a reflection on the performance itself.  Hawkes completely melts into the role of Mark, a poet and writer whose sharp mind has been betrayed by a disabled body, showing a mix of self-aware humor and incredible sadness.  While the majority of viewers won’t be able to relate to his circumstances, we can all picture ourselves in the same position and imagine the incredible difficulty it would place upon every aspect of our lives.  You can never quite tell if Mark has actually come to terms with the way god made him or if he’s putting on a brave face, but you get the sense that he can’t either.

"I'd like to thank my husband, Mike, for this award"

At LEAST she was nominated

Regarding Helen Hunt’s performance as Cheryl, I can now say that (in my opinion) no other person in her category deserves the Oscar more than Hunt.  I loved Anne Hathaway’s performance in Les Miserables and recognize that she essentially has the win in the bag, but from an acting standpoint I was even more impressed with Hunt’s ability to depict someone struggling to be both caring for and detached from her patient.  Hunt’s straight-forward view of sex is what sets the tone of the entire movie, but it’s the building uncertainty of how close she can get to help Mark without getting him unhealthily attached to her that really drives the film forward.  After seeing so many of the likes of Warm Bodies and Beautiful Creatures, it’s nice to see a much more down to earth take on the “forbidden love” concept.

This face captures it all

This face captures it all

The biggest surprise for me, however, was how much I liked William H. Macy as Mark’s Priest, Father Brendan.  Mark periodically comes to Brendan for confession, telling him about his experiences with Cheryl and asking him for his advice as both a priest and a friend.  Macy’s character stands in for the audience in a very interesting way in that he’s obviously very uncomfortable with both the graphic sexual details of Jon’s sessions and the moral grey-area they occupy in the eyes of the church, but he still hears Mark out without complaining and gives him honest, heartfelt advice.  Seeing the Mark and Brendan’s friendship develop remains my favorite part of The Sessions.

The Verdict:  8.0/10  –  Pretty Damn Great

+ Oscar worthy/nominated performances by Hawkes, Hunt and Macy

+ Simple yet emotionally powerful direction from Ben Lewin

+ A nice, touching ending made all the more effective by the knowledge of its basis in truth

– Definitely not one to watch with family, friends, or anyone else for that matter

Critical Consensus:

Rotten Tomatoes: 93%

IMDb: 7.3/10

Metacritic: 79/100

Other Reviews:

Committed to Celluloid: 4/5

Fast Film Reviews: 4/5

Dan the Man Movie Reviews: 7/10

About r361n4

I'm a student at the University of Washington Majoring Business. I've always loved movies and my goal is to work on the financial side of the film industry. Until then though, I figure I'll spare my friends from my opinions and shout them from a digital mountaintop for anyone who's interested. After all, if a tree falls in a forest and nobody blogs about it, does it really happen?
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17 Responses to The Sessions Review: Let’s Talk About Sex

  1. ” Our society has an incredible double standard when it comes to sex, one which both trivializes it and makes it taboo at the same time.” Perfect! That is just dead on.

    I am really looking forward to this movie — the performances sound magnificent. Excellent review!

  2. Thanks for the “linkage”, man! I’ll read your review as soon as I can.

  3. CMrok93 says:

    Hawkes and Hunt were great and kept this movie going, but the material does play-out like a made-for-TV story and it gets sort of soapy at times. That said, it ain’t so bad. Good review Andy.

  4. Nice review. Apart from some nice performances, I found The Sessions to be a bit forgettable really :/

    • r361n4 says:

      I can understand that, as Mark said it really is a small film so it’s not going to have an enormous impact unless you’re really invested in the characters. To tell the truth, I’m probably not going to remember much beyond the performances either but those alone were enough to earn my praise

  5. Mark Hobin says:

    Yeah I really enjoyed this too. It got so much positive buzz and then it’s Oscar nominations were limited to just a supporting performance for Helen Hunt. She’s really good, but so is John Hawkes who I was surprised didn’t get a nomination for Best Actor. A little gem.

  6. I think I should have the talk with my parents before we discuss 😀

    • r361n4 says:

      Lol, if you still haven’t gotten “The Talk” from your parents yet there might be bigger problems you have to worry about. That being said, I firmly believe sex education should take place entirely through urban dictionary from now on

  7. Mark Walker says:

    Great review here Andy. I’m really interested in seeing this one.

    • r361n4 says:

      I think you’ll enjoy it, but as other people have mentioned it is a pretty small film by design so it probably won’t blow your mind in any significant way

  8. Pingback: Rorschach’s Oscar Winners Predictions | Rorschach Reviews

  9. great review. I still haven’t seen this, but I’m a fan of Macy and am glad to see that he also very much adds to this film!

  10. Great review, man! Spot-on! Really loved this one. Great writing and a fantastic cast.

  11. Stephen says:

    Just saw the movie last night.
    Very touching and poingnant, but also uplifting to know that Mark knew love from three women. That it was different with each of them made it clear that he was no different than any other person. I cried at the end and wispered to my wife..”that was beautiful” She replied…”yes, it was”
    Getting some of the finer points of this film I think requires some life experience and sensitivity.
    We able people take for granted what is possible and should happen in our lives and dismiss others.
    I’m thinking of the boyfriend who thought it was gross that his girlfriend cared for Mark.
    She herself was tormented by the fact that she loved him but could not carry on with him, perhaps because she saw herself being with an able person I thought while watching the film.
    She was sad in the end because it wasn’t her who first had sex with Mark.

    • r361n4 says:

      Very good points, I completely agree and can understand what you’re saying even though my life experience is only about 21 years worth at the moment. The tragedy of a beautiful mind trapped in a crippled body is one that I will always sympathize with, but The Sessions framed it in such a way that made it impossible to forget.

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