Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes) has polio, and with what’s essentially an empty vessel of a body, he wants to lose his virginity. With the blessing of his understanding priest and friend (William H Macy) and the help of a kind sex therapist (Helen Hunt), Mark goes on a sexual and spiritual odyssey that he never believed was possible. Is it an odyssey worth enduring and cherishing, or is it all just one big sap fest? Find out after the jump.
Australian writer/director Ben Lewin has done a fine job in telling Mark O’Brien’s story, the writer and poet who basically lived in an iron lung since he was 6 years old. He can’t move his body from the neck down, yet speaks with elegance and a certain charm. However despite it all, he’s still a lonely soul who wants to lose his virginity once and for all, even at the age of 38.
Mark asks the priest at his local parish, father Brendan (who soon becomes a great friend) if God can overlook his participation in sex before marriage given his condition. Brendan gives Mark his blessing and that leads Mark to meeting with Cheryl, a sex therapist. Their encounters are all too brief yet she’s patient and gentle with him; and despite his fragile physical state and perception of sex, love soon becomes something that is real. Can Mark find love despite his disability? But most of all Can he still maintain his positive and gentle nature after his sexual awakening?
The Sessions has some of the best performances out of any film to be released [so far] this year, in particular those of John Hawkes and Helen Hunt – a career best for her. If any bit of dialogue or scene has even the slightest feel of cliché or familiarity, their chemistry and individual performance elevates it. Some will say an Oscar nomination is deserving of their work but it goes beyond that – this is really special to see on-screen. Ben Lewin’s direction is also to be admired in regards to the performances. He really gets the best out of these actors, making every moment feel genuine and endearing.
In saying all of this, the problem with The Sessions lies in the screenplay and editing. Although that may sound pedantic, scenes unravel all too quickly – it doesn’t affect the story entirely, but it does result in particular scenes and moments throughout the film losing some emotional weight. This only really occurs in the first hour of the film [which is thankfully improved on], but it still brings down an otherwise beautiful story.
Despite at times feeling a little choppy and rushed, this is a wonderful story with characters that feel more like people who you know and love instead of just caricatures who prove to be a backdrop to the story and concept. This is a film that could have been another case of emotional manipulation or at any time could have felt like a cheap midday movie; but it instead goes for raw emotion with a tender sensibility – much like its protagonist who you come to admire from the minute he opens his mouth.
The Sessions also deserves some real praise in its presentation of sex, it’s approached with a real maturity and respect, and not gratuity or distasteful comedy.
By Chris Elena
Director: Ben Lewin
Writer(s): Ben Lewin
Starring: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H Macy, Moon Bloodgood, Alan Arkin, W. Earl
Runtime: 95 Minutes
Release Date(s): Australia & New Zealand: November 8, 2012; USA: October 19, 2012