The Sessions (2012)

by - October 19th, 2012 - Movie Reviews


Intimate Sessions an Inspiring Gem

At the age of 38, San Franciscan writer and poet Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes) has decided it is time for him to lose his virginity. No big deal, right? Well, consider for a moment that Mark has lived the majority of his life in an iron lung and can only spend three or four hours at a time outside of it before his body shuts down and his organs stop working. But with the advice of his priest Father Brendan (William H. Macy) and the help of his aids Vera (Moon Bloodgood) and Rod (W. Earl Brown), this is something he wants to happen, enlisting sexual surrogate and licensed therapist Cheryl Cohen-Greene (Helen Hunt) to assist him in his deflowering.

The Sessions (2012) | PHOTO: Fox Searchlight

There’s not much more to add as far as describing the plot of writer/director Ben Lewin’s (Georgia) heartfelt and inspirational drama The Sessions is concerned. Informed by O’Brien’s article “On Seeing a Sex Surrogate” originally published in The Sun literary magazine in 1990, there is a profound honesty to this story that is remarkably appealing. Walking out of the theatre there was a spring in my step and a smile on my face, the joy I felt in my heart somewhat surprising all things considered.

Lewin never obsesses over O’Brien’s disability, never asks the audience to feel sorry for him. Instead, the director wants the viewer to feel what it’s like to reside in the poet’s iron lung, lie upon a gurney and on finally to lay in a bed with Cheryl. He wants us to experience this journey the same way O’Brien does, hardships, failures, setbacks and victories all. Lewin allows humor to shine through and the inherent intimacy of the central story to take hold. This triumph means something, the whole thing achieving an emotionally magic urgency that’s blissfully inspiring.

This would work without the nakedly authentic honesty of Hawkes and Hunt’s performances. Both actors are destined for Academy Award nominations, and if that happens they would be undeniably justified. Their connection to one another is never false, never goes in a wrong direction, every step they take in tandem effortlessly building to reveal a beguiling universally human truth.

The Sessions (2012) | PHOTO: Fox Searchlight

They are ably supported by the talented ensemble. Each has a moment or two to flesh out their respective characters in order to make them resonate a bit more fully. But this is still Hawkes and Hunt’s show all the way, their first scene together as close to flawless as anything I could have hoped for. It sets the tone for what is to come, the movie building right to where you assume it is going to (whether you are familiar with O’Brien’s story or not) but doing so in a way that is still effortlessly enthralling. The euphoria this story generates is all-encompassing, and only the hardest heart could feel anything otherwise.

Lewin doesn’t try to do anything inventive in regards to editing or camerawork, and that’s a good thing as I don’t believe fancy technical shenanigans would have been necessary. Mark O’Brien’s story is the sole focus, just as it should be, and what happens between him and Cheryl is the only thing that matters. This modest gem is a model of storytelling efficiency acted to perfection by Hawkes and Hunt, The Sessions a towering testament to the enduring power of the human spirit and accordingly should not be missed.

Film Rating: 3½ (out of 4)

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