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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Sessions' story about a man in an iron lung who decides to explore his sexuality with the help of a professional "sex surrogate" isn't appropriate for younger teens. But for mature older teens and adults, it's a film filled with compassion and hope that could provide a lesson about what sex and love mean and what they can bring to anyone's life when approached in a healthy manner. Expect plenty of nudity (including brief glimpses of a woman's private parts and breasts, as well as longer shots of her backside) and frank conversations about sex acts, orgasm, and more. Language is infrequent but includes "f--k" and "s--t."
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What's the story?
At age 38, poet and journalist Mark O'Brien (John Hawkes), who survives only by being tethered to an iron lung, has never been in love. Nor has he had sex. A devout Catholic, Mark is reminded of how lonely his existence can be when he grows enamored of an assistant who can't reciprocate his feelings. When an editor assigns him a story about sex and disability, Mark decides that it's time to explore his own sexuality, too. He consults with his priest (William H. Macy), who supports him, and hires a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt), who teaches Mark about his body and with whom he develops an important friendship.
Is it any good?
How can a movie full of sex not just be about sex? THE SESSIONS is transcendent, laying bare (no pun intended) the emotional and sexual needs of the disabled in a way that's universal. Mark isn't simply looking for release; he's searching for a deep and abiding connection beyond his faith. The movie follows his exploration elegantly and without judgment -- and, in so doing, elicits empathy. We aren't just watching a good, kind man attempt to have sex; we're seeing a human being try to make sense of connection and love and of the difficult card life has handed him.
Hawkes deserves nothing but praise -- and heaps of awards -- for his rich, nuanced performance. He's so believable that we forget that he's not actually reliant on an iron lung in real life; his scenes with Hunt, who's also great here (though her Boston accent is grating), feel so private, so personal, that we feel both privileged and a little intrusive watching them. Macy's addition as Mark's priest allows viewers a peek into Mark's mind without bogging down the movie. And how wonderful it is to see a pious man not painted as a sinner for discussing his urges and needs. The Sessions is a powerful, emotional lesson in grace and compassion.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how The Sessions presents sex. What messages is it sending about sex as a part of life? As a part of a relationship? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values on these topics.
Had you ever heard of a sex surrogate before? Why do you think someone might choose this profession?
The Sessions also examines a man's relationship with God. How is it depicted here? How does it compare to how Hollywood has handled the subjects of faith and God in other movies?
- In theaters: October 19, 2012
- On DVD or streaming: February 12, 2013
- Cast: Helen Hunt, John Hawkes, William H. Macy
- Director: Ben Lewin
- Studio: Fox Searchlight
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship
- Character strengths: Compassion
- Run time: 95 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong sexuality including graphic nudity and frank dialogue
- Last updated: January 8, 2021
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