Director & Writer: Ben Lewin
Cast Members: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy
Runtime: 95 min
A movie centered around a man on a quest to lose his virginity has no novelty in this day and age, and often results in a crass and tasteless work of film. When said man is severely handicapped thirty-eight year old Mark O’Brien, an individual who spends much of his time in an iron lung and rarely makes an important decision without the consultation of his local priest, a sweet and sensitive piece is the surprise result. The Sessions may appear to be about sex, but it really has more to say about love, friendship, and human connections.
After learning that it is possible for severely handicapped individuals to have an active and fulfilling sex life, Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes) embarks on a quest to lose his virginity with the help of part time sex surrogate, part time mom Cheryl (Helen Hunt). His trials are related to his local priest, Father Brendan (William H. Macy), who fully supports Mark in his endeavors. Mark forms relationships with and has a great impact on many people around him, including Cheryl, with whom he forms a friendship that greatly affects them both. Based on a true story.
This is a kind and good-hearted movie filled with a host of well meaning characters. Even individuals a viewer may judge harshly initially, such as Mark’s personal assistant Vera, grow on you eventually. I especially enjoyed William H. Macy’s portrayal of Father Brendan, and the positive representation of religion rarely seen in current film; it is clear that this priest is far more concerned with the well being of his parish than with any sort of restrictive doctrine. Even as someone who is easily made uncomfortable by sex in film, I found the depiction of the subject matter to be honest and in no way lewd. Mark’s inner thoughts are related as a humorous and insightful commentary throughout the work, allowing viewers a glimpse into a mind that they may easily be able to relate to as Mark’s thoughts and observations are often not too far from our own.
The only nomination this film received was that of Best Supporting Actress for Helen Hunt, and a brave and touching performance ranks Hunt’s up along with the others in her category. The biggest snub undoubtedly is the lack of recognition for John Hawkes for Best Actor. The representation of any individual in a state of vulnerability is admirable, but Hawke’s portrayal of the effects of polio is accurate and heartbreaking. The idea that an able bodied person is able to so convincingly mimic a body affected by the devastating affliction does not fail to impress, and viewers cannot help but fall in love with the kind and nervous Mark. A best supporting nomination for William H. Macy would have been deserved as well.
A sweet movie that deals with sex in a frank and comfortable way, The Sessions is an enjoyable film full of fascinating and talented performances. Although only nine films received nominations for Best Picture this year out of a possible ten, this movie would have been my choice to round off the category.