If it hasn’t been made clear yet I’m a film student. And as a film student I take film student classes. Luckily one of these classes is Film Analysis and Aesthetics. A tricky little class that has six hours of reading every week. More importantly is that every Monday night we watch a classically or culturally significant film. We’ve seen Singin’ In the Rain, The Grand Illusion, Das Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (with live music improvised on the spot), and Battleship Potemkin. We also get two free screening of current run indie or art house films at Cinemapolis. Cinemapolis is the coolest theater I’ve ever been too. It has a small vibe to it and only projects art house and indie films from celluloid. It is a beautiful, intimate feeling. If you truly love films find a theater like this by you and support it.
The first time we trekked down to Ithaca Commons we saw Perks of Being a Wallflower. A mainstream, teen, indie film. It was fabulous. This time we were treated to something much much more mature The Sessions. A film written and directed by Ben Lewin based on the true story of Mark O’Brien, a paralyzed poet and essayist who hires (at the blessing of his Roman Catholic priest) a sex surrogate to help him lose his virginity before he dies. Starring John Hawkes (from Winter Bones the awesome movie from 2010 that no one has seen) as O’Brien, Helen Hunt as Cheryl his sex surrogate, and William H. Macy as Father Brendan the conflicted but accepting Roman Catholic priest. The story fluctuates from real-time to O’Brien telling Father Brendan his sexual encounters. A dark comedy champion, the interactions between O’Brien and Father Brendan really are what makes this film special. Due to his gurney their talks and reconciliations take place in the middle hall of a church. The reactions of the other people in the church and William H. Macy’s face are almost too much for such a serious matter, almost. Don’t be surprised to see John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, and William H. Macy get nomination nods from the Academy.
In terms of story development you really do grow with and feel for O’Brien. Every time he tells a women he loves her or asks Cheryl if they can achieve simultaneous orgasm you cringe. You don’t want people to hurt him, but you know they have to. You also witness Mark grow before your eyes, it was a sort of coming of age story. (You’re welcome dirty minded people). However the other characters like Father Brendan just change. You don’t witness the change it just happens. Sure when a priest shows up at a house carrying a six-pack and smoking it’s funny. But it didn’t fit the character. Though Father Brendan gave the blessing for Mark to go ahead with the sex surrogate he did so begrudgingly. And Helen Hunt’s Cheryl was perfect in the bedroom scenes. She was nice, frustrated, and every you imagine a sex therapist having sex with a virgin who can’t move his body would feel. But than she had a story about the crumble of her love life with her husband and converting to Judaism to make his mom happy before he dies. And sure the parallel of her turning towards faith to bring happiness to a dying person and Mark turning away from his faith to make himself (a dying person) happy works theoretically. But it comes across forced and rushed and not as natural as Mark’s story.
The Sessions was an excellent film. But a forced excellent film. The writing at times was choppy and unnatural and character development other than Mark’s was sporadic and all over the place. Where The Sessions shine is by bringing humor into such a serious conversation. Whether it’s a Catholic priest blessing premarital sex, a hotel manager and nurse discussing what is actually going on in the room, or just a naked Helen Hunt talking it is an enjoyable film. And truthfully I think that is all this film is aiming for, being enjoyable to watch.