by Andrew Robinson
American Pie and Fast Times at Ridgemont High would be the best examples of a film like The Sessions, if it were filled with more lust than honest sexual desire (and younger people). What sets it apart from the flurry of raunchy teen sex comedies is that, in those films, we laugh at the characters because we were all once like them, but this film allows us to empathize with the main character for a much different reason. This is not a case of a protagonist being a virgin by choice, but by design, and due to developments in his work life he finds himself poised to be in contact with a sexual therapist named Cheryl (played well by Helen Hunt) who handles disabled clients.
It’s a sex comedy for grown-ups.
The humor in this movie is sharp, lovely and always great enough that its cute flirting nature is never left looking like cheesiness. The dramatic and romantic moments are heartwarming enough to spread out between every Lifetime film for an entire decade and still not run out. John Hawkes’ – playing the man in an iron lung looking to have sex for the first time – has a great way of making the awkward moments not so awkward and the disparaging ones touching.
The Sessions delves into the same territory as films like Friends With Benefits. The idea that a relationship, professional or otherwise, where sex and intimacy are the primary basis won’t lead to emotional entanglement continues to baffle screenwriters as they pretend that the film won’t end in tears for both people involved. This film, while still running into those moments, handles them in ways that feel a lot more real than previous films that are only half as funny.
Beyond the main roles, William H. Macy is also a wonderful addition to the mix playing the odd priest who empathizes with Mark (Hawkes) and unofficially sanctions his journey to sexual liberation. Throughout the film we see Macy and Hawkes discussing the sessions and Mark’s progress in discovering himself and what he can do even with so little control over his physical body. At times the conversations, and reactions of other members of the congregation that happen to be hanging around to overhear Mark’s sexual adventures.
There are also great things to be said about Moon Bloodgood who plays Vera, the odd assistant that Mark hires to do all the things he can’t. She, like William H. Macy, has the ability to lighten a situation on a moment’s notice. There’s a point in the film where she ends up making an arrangement with a motel where Mark and Cheryl (Hunt) can have their sessions. Vera befriends the desk attendant as she spends her time waiting for therapy to be over. It offers some more time with Vera and proves her to be the solution to Mark’s initial problem at the beginning of the film when he first confesses (or as he puts it, “gets a quote in advance”) what he would like to do.
On a whole, the film feels like all it wants to truly accomplish is entertainment, which four days into the festival is kind of surprising. Still, it manages something beyond that. It uses a too-common idea with grace and comes up with something human and real.
The Upside: Funnier than the film has any right to be
The Downside: John Hawke’s can only use his head for the whole film (imagine if he could do his whole body?)
On the Side: William H. Macy remains the greatest supporting actor in the industry
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Related Topics: Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)