Sex and 'The Sessions': Helen Hunt does a job that is NSFW

The Sessions, a movie about a severely disabled man trying to lose his virginity, may be the hardest sell of award season. How do you get people to give a movie a try when the very premise is squirm-inducing?

Funnily enough, describing The Sessions is also a little like trying to be intimate. If you come on too strong, too direct or blunt, all you’ll do is turn the person off. (Case in point: the way I described the movie above.)

But once you’ve actually seen The Sessions, you know there’s a lot more to it. For one, it’s hilarious. There are a fair number of heartbreaking moments, yes, but for the most part the spirit of this story is witty and warm and charming. Is it awkward? Absolutely — but how was your first time?

The video above, a Prize Fighter exclusive via Fox Searchlight, does a great job showing the lively nature of the film by focusing on the sex surrogate character played by Helen Hunt, a woman whose job is to help this man find happiness in a body that has given him anything but.

Does that description woo you any better?

The man is poet and journalist Mark O’Brien, played by Winter’s Bone Oscar-nominee John Hawkes. If he were a suffering soul, alone and in pain throughout his life, this story might feel the same way. But this true-life figure (the subject of the 1996 Academy Award-winning short Breathing Lessons) did everything he could to enjoy life, in spite of a body rendered largely useless by polio when he was a child. He’s not paralyzed, as the clip points out; it’s just that his muscles don’t work.

As he got older, nearing his “use-by date” (as he puts it in the film), O’Brien decided he wanted to find out what all this fuss was about sex. Trying to get a girlfriend when you’re just a head sticking out of an iron lung is not an easy task. And anyway, how do you suddenly try to explore a body that’s not only broken, but something you’ve been fighting against your whole life?

This is where Helen Hunt’s character comes in — another true-life figure named Cheryl Cohen-Greene who works as an unusual kind of physical therapist. She’s a sex surrogate, which means she helps people with sexual problems explore their own bodies, and uses her own to help them. The difference between her and a prostitute…? That’s the obvious, most-asked question someone in this profession gets. Her answer is that she doesn’t want repeat business, but the more complex truth is that she’s there not so much to give pleasure as to help people overcome some mental or physical obstacle that is holding them back.

Both actors are considered likely Oscar nominees — him for lead, her for supporting — and each got Independent Spirit Award nominations yesterday. But first voters have to be willing to overcome aversion to those clumsy, off-putting descriptions of the movie.

The shock for many is how exposed Hunt is in the film. As she helps Hawkes’ character understand his body, we see all of hers. ”I remember saying to [director] Ben [Lewin], ‘I don’t know if I have the body you want in the movie,”’ Hunt, 49, told EW’s Josh Rottenberg in a profile earlier this month. ”He said, ‘I want it to be a real body.’ Well, I have some version of that.”

The Sessions is not a love story about these two characters; she’s married and has a family, and he’s looking to leave this experience with a newfound understanding of how to start a relationship. But there is love between them, a kind that has nothing to do with physical affection.

The sex scenes aren’t exactly clinical. They’re sweet and tender — and frequently funny, too. There’s a warmth to the matter-of-factness.

”With audiences who’ve seen the film, I feel there’s this breath of relief that we can have this subject not be filled with shame and strangeness for a minute,” Hunt said. ”This movie is a little break from how weird we are about sex.”

For more on award season

Read More:
‘The Sessions’: Helen Hunt and John Hawkes nominated for Indie Spirit awards
‘Zero Dark Thirty’ and ‘Les Miserables’ storm tight Oscar race
Academy Awards 2012: Oscar buzz for older actresses

Latest Videos in Movies

Advertisement

From Our Partners

TV Recaps

Powered by WordPress.com VIP