The Sessions is a new lighthearted drama about the true experiences of Mark O’Brien. Mark (John Hawkes) suffered from polio as a child, due to this he is paralyzed from the neck down and spends most of his time in an Iron Lung. While he can spend a few hours outside of the machine, he mostly stays in and writes poems or articles for newspapers. Mark is contacted about writing an article on the sex-lives of disabled people and takes the opportunity to explore his own sex-life. His complicated situation requires him to contact a “Sexual Surrogate”, a person to introduce him to sexual activity and to find out what is possible with his disability. His surrogate, Cheryl (Helen Hunt), is legally able to have six sessions with him, giving Mark a crash course on being sexually active. The Sessions follows Mark on his journey into sex and how these new activities affect his relationships.
For sounding somewhat awkward and depressing, The Sessions is remarkably upbeat. The film’s mood is kept afloat by the optimistic humor of Mark. To tell you the truth, John Hawkes gave an incredible performance in The Sessions. Only using his head, he was able to create an emotional and believable character that you can’t help but love. Many people are naming him as an Oscar contender and I have to agree. Helen Hunt is just as impressive, playing the empathetic and conflicted sexual therapist. These two leading characters are performed masterfully, allowing you to watch them grow throughout the film. The Sessions has a number of memorable minor characters, most notably Vera (Moon Bloodgood) and Father Brendan (William H. Macy). The plot of The Sessions moves quickly, but takes enough time to allow the audience to create an emotional connection with the characters.
The Sessions is surprisingly heartfelt, while walking the line of being occasionally cheesy. Still, it avoids most of the sappy clichés and dialogue that we’re used to seeing in “Inspirational” movies. Also, you may want to be cautious about watching this movie if you’re not entirely comfortable with sex. Much to my surprise, Helen Hunt does full-frontal nudity. The nudity is frequent, but not exploited to be the focal point of the movie. The Sessions treats sex more as an emotional act, but you still might want to take Grandma to see a different movie.
This film is incredibly well shot, taking advantage of the leading character’s disability. Hawkes is confined to the Iron Lung or a gurney, but this allowed for a unique style of cinematography. When you combine this with an artful direction, especially with light, it creates a beautiful film to watch. While they could have gone further with cinematic style, I think the simplicity lends to the mood of the film.
The Sessions was a pleasant surprise to see. It took a tender, (somewhat) taboo topic and turned it into a film that anyone could relate to. It is one of the few movies that accomplishes the goal of being an inspirational experience, without leaving you weeping all over yourself. While it may be tough to catch a showing of this indie film, it’s worth the effort to watch. The Sessions is an original and heartfelt movie in a very unoriginal period of film.
I give The Sessions 4 “Motorgurneys” out of 5
By Blake Edwards