The Sunday Sessions: An Up-Close and Disturbing Look at Conversion Therapy | Film Review

If you can sit through a film tackling “gay conversion therapy,” also known by its other given names “ex-gay” or “repetitive therapy,” a practice rejected by every major medical organization then you are in for a long, grueling, and heartbreaking look into the bizarre and abusive process that has tricked many gay men into believing that their attraction to the same sex can be suppressed, if not completely “cured.”

In the recently released documentary film, The Sunday Sessions, directed by Richard Yeagley, we meet Nathan, a young man with seemingly deep Christian beliefs whose sexual experiences so far have been with other men. As Nathan willingly commits himself to a gay conversion “therapy” in the hands of nationally recognized “therapist” Chris Doyle (using quotations around the word to remind our readers about the questionable, meritless nature of the exercise), filmmaker Yeagley bravely and carefully documents weeks and months of his subject’s journey. A series of unnerving and manipulative conversations and practice don’t go anywhere other than arriving at one question, which is how someone like Doyle is allowed to legally practice such a sham.

With unprecedented access to both subject and therapist, The Sunday Sessions is a breakthrough film dealing with the very serious topic of conversion therapy.

Ex gay , conversion therapy explored in the documentary film The Sunday Sessions
The Sunday Sessions documentary film. A disturbing and close documentation of gay conversion therapy – distributed by First Run Features

With unprecedented access to both subject and therapist, it is a breakthrough for films that have tried to focus the lens on this controversial process. Because of Yeagley’s patience and determination, the viewer becomes the ultimate fly-on-the-wall, observing the painful path Nathan embarks on.

To understand the film it is to understand the filmmaker’s original and honest approach. Click here to read filmmaker Richard Yeagley’s statement.

Sadly, the severity of its subject’s situation, his desperation, and the incredible access granted to the “therapy” do not make for an engaging film.

Nathan is a young man conflicted about his sexual identity, in Richard Yeagley’s “The Sunday Sessions” documentary film – released by First Run Features

Simply put, The Sunday Sessions is not an entertaining film, and to some degree that’s acceptable. It deals with a serious dilemma of a man who seems to be at the end of his rope.

When a film fails to hook the audience it risks losing them. If the viewer is not fully fascinated and concerned with Nathan and his troubles, the film (soon on DVD and VOD) faces the risk of being stopped and skipped.

What’s missing from the overall content of the film is a deeper dive into Nathan’s relationship with his family and his upbringing. Just like his therapist, the film fails to investigate Nathan’s real feeling about his parents. Nathan’s commitment to his religion is also left unexplored. His connection with his church and faith does not seem to be very deep, or perhaps not well established. The viewer might have trouble understanding why religion plays such a powerful role in dictating who this young man gets to form an intimate and sexual relationship with.

Nathan’s own presence, on camera, becomes harder to understand or be taken seriously because they begin to look and feel very theatrical, which depending per viewer, can work against the greater good of educating the audience.

It is not until much later when the Chris the therapist visits Nathan’s family and invites them into a group session which demonstrates a window into other angles and possible obstacles standing in the way of this young man’s freedom and progress, but by that point not much seems to matter. The frustration and the tension somehow do not justify the resolution.

The filmmaker gets credit for tackling this heavy and subject and for gaining such access to both sides of the story but it struggles with presenting a fuller, digestible and engaging documentary.

Released by First Run features, The Sunday Sessions become available on VOD and DVD on February 5, 2019.

♦UPDATE: A federal lawsuit seeks to overturn Maryland’s ban on conversion therapy. Read more.

Watch the trailer for the documentary film below.

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