“The Sessions” directed by Ben Lewin, is a deeply moving film that focuses on the intimacies of sex. Based on the real life story of Mark O’ Brien (John Hawkes), it follows a man with polio who has only one desire to fill before he passes, to lose his virginity. This setup could have ended with a film that was overly sentimental or schmaltzy, but instead this is a warm breezy film that exhibits deep knowledge of human sexuality and relationships. It’s rare to see sex portrayed so uncompromisingly and intelligently in the movies.
Brien is a poet, who spends his days in an iron lung unable to move any of muscle. Dependent on his female caretakers, it becomes apparent he needs help with things beyond hygiene. Seemingly trapped, Brien tries to reach out and feel a human connection. He goes to Father Brendan (William H. Macy), a good listener who offers his religious and life advice.
Deciding to take control of his life, Brien comes to a huge decision. He will work with a sex surrogate to lose his virginity. You can tell he is nervous and afraid when he firsts meets surrogate Cheryl Cohen-Greene (Helen Hunt). Greene isn’t a prostitute, but a therapist who helps people with specific needs. She has problems in her life at home, and the sessions with Brien only exasperates them. There are some initial problems Brien has to overcome like pre-ejaculation, which is expected in his condition.
The two lead actors are incredible, and the film is absolutely depedent on them. Though Hawks plays a man who cannot move, he is able to project all the dramatic work through his face and eyes to incredible effect. Hunt approaches the role without hesitation, delivering a strong performance that required a lot of nudity. It all works because of the realistic approach the director takes, and a surprisingly humorous script.
It shows just how important it is to take chances in life and deal with things that may frighten you, as it is better in the long run. While at times this movie feels like a soap on television, it is uplifted by lead actors who absorb themselves into tricky roles. Overall, its not the sex that fulfills Brien, but the connection he forms with other people. This is a humorous and wise film that is worth a look.
(3 ½ out of 4 stars)
Released: October 19, 2012