“Sensitivity Training” is part of the line-up of lesbian-themed films at Toronto’s Inside Out LGBT Film Festival. Visit the site for a calendar of screening dates and if you’re in the area, tickets are still available!
Microbiologist Serena Wolfe is like the more abrasive, callous version of Dr. Temperance Brennan of “Bones.” She’s so intrinsically logical that the idea and practice of empathy has no place in her life. Having found out, for example, that a lab colleague’s adopted mother passed away from cancer, she responds, “At least you don’t have that gene. Although who knows what genes you do have.” She wraps herself in the mantle of science to justify and explain her behavior; scientists don’t have to be liked, just effective. Except in her case, she does, because the university for which she works will fire her if she doesn’t under go sensitivity training after the suicide of a beloved fellow researcher.
Enter Caroline, a bubbly behavioral scientist/sociologist who works at the university telling men that sexual harassment is bad and they should stop doing it. Caroline, a lesbian with a wife and child, has been assigned to coach Serena into being an actual decent human being, and she attacks the job with gusto.
The two are opposites, like Oscar Madison and Felix Unger (of “The Odd Couple”): Serena gets kicked out of the movies every night for trying to make other moviegoers stop talking; Caroline coaches her daughter to turn the other cheek to bullies. Serena yells at slow drivers; Caroline excuses a pedestrian for his own carelessness. Serena believes the key to life is being right, while Caroline believes the key is being liked. It takes a long time, but gradually Serena starts to make marginal improvement in understanding why she cannot continue to rampage over the feelings of others like a bull in a china shop. This improvement snowballs after a night of whiskey and movies, but starts to blur the lines of professionalism, friendship…and possibly romance? Like a bacterium, Serena’s defenses are broken down, but it’s hard to change a lifetime of pushing people away and become a more sociable, amiable person.
“Sensitivity Training” is a very good movie. The script in particular, which won a Samuel Goldwyn Writing Award, is full of funny lines that might not make you laugh out loud but may make you smile. Although sexual orientation and questioning is certainly a component of the film, the bigger issue is really how we create and maintain social bonds. How we treat others impacts their willingness to perform for us, and how we are treated, particularly growing up, can have huge ramifications later on. Originally released in June 2016, this is exactly the type of movie that would be a good addition to Netflix streaming, and hopefully that’s where it’s eventually headed.