Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Three more films for you: 'The Sessions', 'Boy meets girl' and 'X + Y'

Three films well worth watching. All a little offbeat and well made, so refreshing and engaging in their originality.

The Sessions stars John Hawkes playing Mark O’Brien, a real-life poet who was paralysed from the neck down by polio and lived in an iron lung. Allowing myself a little digression, since the film does the same at this point, it gives an excellent and claustrophobic presentation of what happens to a patient in an iron lung during a power cut.

That isn’t the main theme of the film, though. That’s O’Brien’s desire to lose his virginity. As a practising Catholic, he needs to have the blessing of the Church, provided reluctantly by his local priest, sympathetically played by William H. Macy. Then we get to the mechanics of the process, for which first of all a willing collaborator has to be found. She’s sex therapist Cheryl Cohen-Greene, played by the always impressive Helen Hunt. I don’t want to include any spoilers, so I’ll just say that in a film dealing with a dark subject, there is a great deal of humour and the distinction between a sex therapist and a prostitute is a subject that gives rise to an excellent example of it.

Helen Hunt and John Hawkes during a therapy session

The title of Boy meets Girl is perfectly chosen: what could be more clich├ęd? Indeed, I should specify it as “Boy Meets Girl (2014)” to distinguish it from the four other films by that title listed on IMDb. The title is in pointed contrast to the film, in which the girl of the title, Ricky, is transgender. She is played by a talented actor who is transgender herself, Michelle Hendley. The film is set in a small Kentucky village, but it avoids the tired old theme about how hard neighbours in such a place make life for someone who’s so fundamentally different.

Instead, the theme of the film is sexual confusion, as Ricky toys with the idea of perhaps being lesbian, and of rejection (rather than persecution), specifically by close family. The story’s well told and sensitively filmed, with an appropriate and satisfying ending.

Michael Galante and Michelle Hendley in Boy Meets Girl

Finally, X + Y (or A Brilliant Young Mind to give its alternative US title) charts the experience of an autistic young mathematical genius, convincingly performed by Asa Butterfield. Personal loss on top of his autism makes it all the more difficult to establish satisfying relations with others. But he sets out on a quest to represent Britain in the International Mathematics Olympiad, and embarks on the journey with coaching from an equally brilliant, former Olympian skilfully played by Rafe Spall, and encouragement from his lone-parent mother, played by one of the more remarkable British actors around, Sally Hawkins (and there are plenty of other British stars in the film). His experiences teach him about far more than mathematics, especially as he has to find a way to relate, despite his autism, to several people he meets on the way, not least a young woman on the Chinese team charmingly represented by Jo Yang, a British actor of Chinese birth.

By the end, it turns out that there is more to life than mathematical skill. In particular, he learns, despite his autism, that he can give and receive love, both at home and outside it.

Asa Butterfield and Jo Yang in X + Y
Three films about people who differ more significantly than most from the perceived norm. Misfits, they might appear to an intolerant community, and yet these are three powerful tales about fitting well into an environment. The stories are compelling in themselves, and they’re told with sensitivity, and performed to high standards.

Three films each providing a rewarding, and life-affirming, way to spend a couple of hours or so.

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