Flipping expectations — and not being sheepish about it — writer-helmer Tom Hall delivers a hot, droll delight with “Sensation,” the story of an Irish farmer, a New Zealand call girl and their mutual enlightenment. Lack of name stars will limit Stateside theatrical exposure despite stellar turns by Luanne Gordon and Domhnall Gleeson (son of Brendan), but the film could certainly do a brisk business on DVD, sexy as it is.
Hall’s film might have been called “An Education,” if the title weren’t taken. When 26-year-old arrested-adolescent and Tipperary farmer Donal (Gleeson) finds his dad dead on the stair-climber one afternoon, it means he doesn’t have to go out to the pasture anymore to visit his porn magazines. But Donal is like the guy who’s afraid of the bathtub and decides to swim the English Channel: Trying to rid himself of virginity, he arranges for a housecall from “Courtney” (Gordon), a rather devastating professional. To say one thing leads to another is putting it far too mildly: Donal and Courtney move from hooker-client relationship to opening their own escort service. Donal, it can safely be said, even becomes cool.
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“Sensation” is no “Pretty Woman” sales pitch for glamorized prostitution; there’s enough ugliness around the edges to keep things real. It’s also a plausible enough story, given how quickly things fly apart for Donal and Kim (her real name) one of the biggest mismatches in movie romance history, but one you root for nonetheless.
What keeps “Sensation” on track are the performances, but also Hall’s script, which allows for each character to manifest believable flaws. This is particularly true of Donal’s prolish friend Karl, played by newcomer Patrick Ryan (who gets the rarely seen “introducing” credit) but also for Donal, who’s transformed by his exposure to Kim into a better dresser, a better talker and a young man with enough confidence to actually ask out the pretty girl at the grocery store (Kelly Campbell, also good) who had previously left him tongue-tied. But Donal’s metamorphosis isn’t without its own ugliness, and the way he treats Kim ultimately leads to some tough lessons, and keeps “Sensation” from being anything like a how-to on the prostitution biz.
What’s particularly engaging is how Hall’s story toys with cliche, setting his viewer up to expect one thing and then delivering another. It’s a package that will keep auds delightfully off-balance.
Tech credits are adequate.