The Sessions: A touching, honest and funny story of sex

by Camila Putti

the sessionsWhat can be the difference between a sex surrogate and a common prostitute? It is the first question that comes up to our mind when we start watching The Sessions. As explains Cheryl Cohen-Greene, dear reader, the prostitute is hoping you will want to see her again and a sex surrogate actually can’t. There is a limit of sessions where she helps you to learn about your sexual feelings so they can be shared with a future partner.

Cheryl is the one who makes the poet and journalist Mark O´Brien (John Hawkes) become a fulfilled  human being. Directed by Ben Lewin, the independent film tells Mark’s real story: a paralyzed man who got polio when he was 6 years old and after spending almost all his life in a iron lung decides to lose his virginity at age of 38.

Briefly, it can sound like a dramatic version of the “40 Year Old Virgin”,and even though the aim of both main characters is at first is sexual experience, The Sessions goes deeper and leads us to think about life in the most simple way, where sex is displayed as a natural need that makes life complete regardless of physical condition.

Helen Hunt’s performance as Cheryl is incredibly touching. No wonder why she was nominated at the 85th Academy Awards 2013 as best supporting actress.
She is natural and comfortable with the nude scenes. Her naturalism is in some scenes even disturbing.

There is nothing sexy about the sex scenes though. The eroticism is left apart to give place to awkward but exciting first feelings of sex. The nakedness here is also emotional. Before Cheryl, Mark had only been touched by doctors, nurses and attendants. She is technical and professional, but her kind personality awakes Mark for something beyond the sessions, for love – which will be successfully achieved afterwards when he meets Susan Fernbach.

In some interviews Helen Hunt said she didn’t care about her body, in a very good shape for her 49 years, by the way, but just about being part of a beautiful story. And she must be proud of her brilliant job. Even if Helen doesn’t get the Oscar once she is competing with strong candidates as Anne Hathaway in “Les Misérables”, Sally Field in “Lincoln” and others, this character is surely remarkable in her career.

The screenplay has been adapted from O’Brien’s article “On Seeing a Sex Surrogate,” published in 1990 in the literary magazine The Sun. The movie explores the sentimentalism but it is also very funny and pleasurable. Mark’s best friend is Father Brendan (William H Macy), an unorthodox priest who with a “go for it” attitude, acquits him from his guilty of being desiring “intercourse outside marriage”.

The Sessions is unique because it is an honest movie about sex. Love is just the background, the consequence. In some session Mark says to Cheryl, ‘I feel like I’m behind a pane of glass and everyone on the other side is getting to eat at at a banquet that I will never taste”. But at the end he enjoys a big feast from life,true love,a healthy sexual life and a beautiful story of persistence to tell the world.

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