Crikey



Lights, camera, smut: the year Hollywood got its rocks off

One memorably awkward scene in writer/director Ben Lewin’s acclaimed Oscar-ready drama The Sessions depicts a full-body-naked Helen Hunt, who plays a “sex therapist”, perched with her genital area positioned directly above the mouth of John Hawkes, who plays a paralytic polio-afflicted poet incapable of moving his arms or legs or spending more than four hours away from a gigantic metal box that helps him breathe.

Muffled sounds emerge from Hawkes’ mouth. Hunt, who was once paid a million dollars per episode of Mad About You and is now clearly under the sheets of an “artistic” film with a “vision,” asks “are you OK down there?”

“You’re choking me,” he responds, and with that line whatever vague traces of romance the scene had disappear faster than Hawke’s character climaxes, which is about the same time it takes to snap your fingers.

Despite its heart-on-sleeve sentimentality The Sessions handles its subject with restraint and a lightness of touch, but this is nevertheless an indisputably strange sequence, a rare moment of kooky Hollywood kink. Particularly for a film so widely associated with “Oscar bait.”

It’s not the only time this year American movies got freaky in the bedroom; not by a long shot. Representations of carnal encounters are a dime in a dozen in an industry populated by people who have long understood the holy significance of the mantra “sex sells” but 2012 has been different. Memorable. A special splotch on the bedsheets of American filmmaking.

A hero of hyper-powered heterosexuality got homoerotic. A Hasbro toy did the dirty. Fried poultry became obscenely sexualised. All manner of strange things transpired involving teachers, students, fish, aliens, vampires and pool tables with Tom Cruise. Even the usually reserved – at least so far as these things go – Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep hopped on the hot love highway.

In Hope Springs, Jones and Streep play a pair of 60-somethings whose 30-year-old marriage has been drained of sexual activity. Jones finds himself  spitting lines of dialogue through gritted teeth about his non-existent love life with a sex counsellor played by Steve Carell, who grins smugly throughout the film with the look of a man who understands he has a plum gig: sitting on one seat looking empathetic for two days of filming while watching Tommy Lee umm and ahh over questions about erectile dysfunction.

Carell assigns the two fading lovers a homework assignment. Streep must go down on him, in a cinema, while watching a French movie. Cut to the cinema; Jones shovels down popcorn; he beams with anticipation as Francois Pignon flaps about in The Dinner Game. Streep crams herself between his legs, goes for the zipper, fumbles about for one horrifying micro-eternity and, in one of several moments in which she hurries off in a huff then returns the very next sequence, says “I can’t do this” and scurries away. It’s an uncomfortable, borderline unwatchable moment made only marginally better by the knowledge that it’s supposed to feel awkward.

Weirder still, at least for change-averse appreciators of Hollywood’s longest-running macho macho man franchise, is a steamy sequence in Skyfall between James Bond and his latest nemesis. Gone are the days in which 007′s saucy one-liners are reserved for the likes of women with names such as Honey Rider, Mary Goodnight, Pussy Galore and Christmas Jones.

Strapped to a chair, Bond, played by Daniel Craig, is forced to endure a rant about cannibalistic rats from a beautifully dressed Javier Bardem, who sashays onto the scene like a bisexual prince from some remote Spanish kingdom. Bardem seductively runs his hands down Craig’s legs and his fingers under his shirt. When he mentions how Bond has never experienced this kind of sensual delight, Craig shoots back: “What makes you think this is my first time?”

Such silky smooth comebacks were not deployed by an unlucky-but-he-thought-he-got-lucky teenager in schlock-fest Piranha 3DD, from the director of such esteemed classics as Feast II: Sloppy Seconds and Feast III: The Happy Finish. After a familiar scene for horror enthusiasts — the ol’ ‘young couple skinning dipping’ chestnut — a couple of frisky young lovers get rudely interrupted mid-copulation when a mutant piranha swims out of the woman’s nether regions and clamps its jaws on the head of the guy’s you-know-what. The scene concludes with a large knife and a dismembered body organ.

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