Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Sessions (Rhoades)

“The Sessions”
Is Now in Session

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I wonder if my health insurance covers sex surrogates. Does it come under medical procedures? Massage? Oral hygiene? Chiropractic?
This line of thinking came after watching “The Session” (original title: “The Surrogate”), the film about paraplegic poet Mark O’Brien’s introduction to sex. It’s currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.
O’Brien was paralyzed from the neck down due to childhood polio. So needless to say, he’d never had a sexual encounter. At the age of 38, he talked it over with his priest and decided to alter that condition.
Despite being in an iron lung, he hired a sex surrogate named Cheryl Cohen Greene to help him lose his virginity.
To quote another film title about a handicapped person: Whose life is it anyway?
“The Sessions” details how O’Brien handled this decision. He must have found the treatment beneficial. As the plurality of the title implies, he underwent numerous sessions.
Although I’m making light of the situation, this film by Australian writer/director Ben Lewin is billed as a drama. But it has its funny moments. After all, we’re taking about sex here.
Those who knew him were “always encouraging me to see the funny side of Mark,” says Lewin. “I felt that I had permission to do that.”
The poet already had been the subject of Jessica Yu’s award-winning short documentary “Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien.” But this was a much more focused look at his sexual awakening.
Ben Lewin had read about these sex sessions in an article written by O’Brien. Thinking it would make a terrific movie, he traced down the rights to the late poet’s writings. They were held by O’Brien’s companion Susan Fernbach (yes, he’d gotten the hang of that sex thing).
Fernbach agreed to consult with Lewin on the project and introduced him to the real-life Cheryl Cohen Greene. “Susan and Cheryl had a crucial effect on the development of the script and the outcome,” he says.
Casting director Ronnie Yeskel helped Lewin secure John Hawkes (Oscar-nominated for “Winter’s Bone”) and Helen Hunt (Oscar-winner for “As Good As It Gets”) for the lead roles. And William H. Macy (Oscar-nominated for “Fargo”) was picked to play the priest.
Needless to say, the graphic sex scenes were a challenge for the actors. You’ll certainly see more of Helen Hunt than you ever did on her TV sitcom “Mad About You.”
The director assures us, “There’s a certain amount of shock value, but it just isn’t there to be exploitative in any way. I think people accept that the sexuality is what it’s about and that it’s about the mechanics of it in a large sense (chuckles), very straightforward in what bit goes where.”
Hunt took her role as the sex surrogate very seriously. After all, she’d asked Lewin for the part.
“Helen was certainly aware that this wasn’t a movie where you could be coy,” says Lewin. “I knew that she was prepared to take it on for what it was and not shirk the obvious.”
The actress shrugs. “I did all of my homework for the part, which would hopefully distract me from the fact that I was going to be so very naked.”
That homework included meeting the inspiration for her character, Cheryl Cohen Greene.
“I took the movie because I thought the story was beautiful,” Helen Hunt explains. “I didn’t really see what a good part it was at first, and once I started talking to Cheryl … more than any other time I’ve played a real person, it was helpful.”
Greene made the point that even though she got paid for her services, she was not a hooker. “I have nothing against prostitutes,” she says. “This is just different.”
Different how? “A prostitute wants your return business, and I don’t,” says the sex surrogate.
Hello – Blue Cross?

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