Movie Review: The Sessions
Pros:Clever, sensitive writing. Great performances all round.
Cons:Some aspects could have been fleshed out a little further.
John Hawkes plays Mark O’Brien, a 38 year old virgin confined to an iron lung who seeks the help of sex surrogate Helen Hunt in this charming, upbeat ensemble piece.
John Hawkes, beloved of Deadwood fans and a man with a run of recent good roles behind him (Winter’s Bone, Martha Marcy May Marlene) plays Mark O’Brien, a real life American poet and journalist. O’Brien’s childhood polio left him severely disabled and confined to a gurney or an iron lung for the rest of his life. So far, so maudlin Oscar bait, right? Thing is, O’Brien is depicted as a man of constant humour and grace and director Ben Lewin keeps a remarkably upbeat tone to the whole thing. Far from overwrought sentimentality and pity, the film looks with frankness and humour at the rarely examined issue of disability and sex.
O’Brien is a 38 year old virgin who feels it’s time he popped his cherry. With the reluctant blessing of his parish priest (the consistently excellent William H. Macy), O’Brien seeks to sort things out with the aid of a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) and a fascinating, touching relationship develops. Hunt got the Academy nod with a performance that has been described as ‘brave’ (critic-speak for ‘lady over forty getting naked, ew, ewww, ewwww’), but in truth it’s a fine ensemble piece, led by a charming, touching role from Hawkes right through to his assistant Vera (Moon Bloodgood) and small roles from other Deadwood alumni, W. Earl Brown and Robin Weigert.
This is a lovely film, sensitively written, superbly cast and dealing with matters of sex and disability in a manner hitherto unknown in Hollywood. In a cinematic period of bombast, boom and ba-dum the Academy has said no to boink, but you shouldn’t.