Helen Hunt and John Hawkes in "The Sessions." (Fox Searchlight )
Anybody who has seen "The Sessions," which opened last weekend to strong business in limited release, would likely agree that the film deserves an R rating, assigned by the Motion Picture Assn. of America for "strong sexuality including graphic nudity and frank dialogue."
But 100% of that "graphic nudity" comes from Helen Hunt, who plays the film's sex surrogate and often wears not a stitch of clothing. John Hawkes, who plays Mark O’Brien, the polio patient who hires Hunt to lose his virginity, is bare from the waist up, yet the actor never does the Full Monty. The inescapable question: Why does Hunt have to act in her birthday suit, and Hawkes doesn’t?
Ben Lewin, who wrote and directed the film, lays most of the blame on the ratings board.
MOVIE REVIEW: 'The Sessions'
"My task was not to challenge the MPAA," Lewin said, adding that any male frontal nudity, especially showing O’Brien in an aroused state, would guarantee a NC-17 rating. Even though the MPAA and the National Assn. of Theater Owners say that adults-only rating can and should be commercially viable, several large chains don't customarily book NC-17 films, and a large number of newspapers and television networks bar advertisements for such movies.
"I was pretty aware of [the MPAA’s] attitude toward erect penises -- that we’d immediately be dumped into quasi-porno land," Lewin said. "And there was no point in showing John's penis if it wasn’t erect."
Hunt said she understood the issue, but that it didn’t want to make her be equally covered up. "Anything less than the amount of nudity that's in the film would be antithetical to the spirit of the movie," Hunt said. "For me, the movie is about having a body and everybody's God-given right to get off."
Helen Hunt fully invests in 'The Sessions'
John Hawkes enters virgin territory in 'The Sessions'
REVIEW: 'The Sessions' puts sexual healing front and center
PHOTOS AND MORE:
PHOTOS: Hollywood back lot moments
The Envelope: Awards Insider
PHOTOS: NC-17 movies: Ratings explained