The Sessions, directed by Ben Lewin, is a badly titled but charming little film based on the life of Mark O’Brien, a real life poet and journalist (1949 – 1999) – played by John Hawkes – who became paralysed from the neck down after contracting polio when he was 6 years old. The film opens with O’Brien in his late thirties, living in his house – more specifically, in his iron lung! – and struggling with his desire to loose his virginity.
Having fruitlessly professed his love to his latest care worker, O’Brien decides to consult with his good friend Father Brendan, played by William H. Macy, and receives unexpected approval to contact sex surrogate Cheryl, played by Helen Hunt, in order to loose his virginity and finally pass through what O’Brien believes to be the last rite de passage into manhood. However, emotional ties inevitably form between Cheryl and O’Brien – despite the professional arrangement – and both experience more than they had initially bargained for.
If you haven’t already gathered, from my opening description of this film as ‘charming,’ I really enjoyed this movie. It is perhaps the most sensitive and warm film I have ever seen on the topic of sexuality, intimacy and the unavoidable link between emotions and sex. And although it deals with such ‘heavy’ issues, it does so in such a joyful and deeply humorous way that it never depresses or preaches.
Also, O’Brien’s dark wit is so beautifully portrayed by Hawkes that I couldn’t help but smile broadly throughout most of the film as O’Brien philosophised about life and made candid, endearing confessions in the face of adversity. It is extremely heart-warming to say the least. Deeply moving too is the physical delicacy and sheer emotional warmth with which everyone interacts with each other on screen, especially William H. Macy’s character – it truly helps to make this film the unique little gem that it is.
But isn’t Ms. Hunt up for an Academy award for her performance? Yes, you’re right, she is! But Helen Hunt is quite the visual oddity in this film. Not only is her surgically altered nose and Botox-paralysed face entirely perplexing to look at but the full-frontal nudity shown of her on a few occasions (which would probably be understated and even tasteful in any other film) come across as completely unnecessary here. In fact, I’m pretty sure the film would have been better if Hunt was never fully exposed in such a fashion – given that the film is so delicate in every other regard – but I should probably blame the director and not Helen on that front…
To summarise, this film is ace and life-affirming and, aw-shucks, I think Helen Hunt even managed to win me round me in the end! I wholeheartedly recommend this film for your viewing pleasure.
Verdict: One thumb (fully) up, one thumb (two-thirds of the way) up.