Synopsis: A man in an iron lung who wishes to lose his virginity contacts a professional sex surrogate with the help of his therapist and priest.
Stars: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy, Moon Bloodgood
Director: Ben Lewin
Running Length: 95 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Now that the summer movie blitz has ended and the late fall films have come and gone we move into the next season of films…Award Season! I admit to getting a bit swept away with movies around this time of year and often find myself emerging from the theater with “X is going to get an Oscar nomination for their work in X” on my lips. I throw it around a little more than I should (I believe I suggested Jennifer Lawrence should get an Oscar nomination for The Hunger Games…and she’ll get one this year anyway…just not for that movie) but I try not to give too much weight to movies that arrive in theaters with heavy hype and film festival buzz.
The Sessions is a movie that you’ll be hearing a lot more about in the months to come. Not just because it’s like catnip for the upcoming end-of-the-year awards ceremonies but because it’s an unusual little film that on paper sounds like bad dramatic schmaltz but in reality is an adults-only dramedy showcasing some mighty fine performances.
When I first read the plot synopsis for The Sessions and saw the preview I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it all. A man ravaged by polio that requires an iron lung to survive meets up with a sex surrogate to help him lose his virginity? It sounds like material that would star someone from an NBC comedy series, Megan Fox, and be filled with a lot of crass bodily fluid jokes.
While the movie is filled with a few bodily fluid jokes and a whole heap of nudity it’s one of the more delicate films you’re likely to see this year. You see, this is a movie with real maturity that’s been made for discerning adult moviegoers. In an industry that panders to the 12-28 age demographic, I found the sensitive nature of the movie to be refreshing and life affirming in a way many films can only hope to be.
The film has a rough frankness that may not be the cup of tea some people wanted to order. Sex and sexual practices are discussed at length and in graphic detail but it’s not meant in any way to titillate…the dialogue is there to illustrate a point about the naïve longings our main character carries with him throughout the day. Here is a man that wants to be loved all the way through…he’s had the “I love you but not in that way” discussion with several women and his desire to connect with a female and experience that sensation just once is a feeling that threatens to consume him.
Hawkes takes on the challenging role of Mark O’Brien with great results – confined to laying flat on his back the entire movie he still presents us with more character development while motionless than anything you’re likely to see in a theater this year. With a quiver in his speech and a vulnerability of one that is truly dependent on outside forces to stay alive, it’s a pretty incredible performance that will without question earn him an Oscar nomination this season.
As sex surrogate Cheryl, Hunt returns to the screen in a role that’s getting the most recognition for the fact that she’s 100% nude for much of the film. Now, I’m not really one to call an actress “fearless” or “brave” or “bold” because she bares all…but Hunt’s nudity is presented in such a non-sexual and assured way that those three words did come into my mind. I have to say, though, that Hunt’s face is looking mighty Botox-ed…so much so that when she’s standing in her birthday suit it almost looks like her head is on the body of a woman that has aged naturally and beautifully. I also found it curious that Hunt started the movie with a pronounced accent that gradually falls away inexplicably. Still…Hunt’s work is commendable here and should earn her an invitation to the Oscars in February (I’m still mad she won an Oscar for As Good as It Gets…)
The sessions between Cheryl and Mark are soul baring exercises in connection that almost feels intrusive to be observing. Hunt and Hawkes didn’t know each other before filming began and that works for the gradual emotional connection they form as their sessions delve into deeper feelings neither of them could have expected. Along the way, Macy turns up as a hip priest that helps Mark through spiritual sessions about his work with Cheryl. Macy’s role is a tad underdeveloped and it’s easy to see he’s there to provide some narrative structure that the film is otherwise lacking.
Director and screenwriter Lewin paints Mark’s world with enough color to suggest a man that’s not unhappy just unfulfilled. As Mark starts to awaken sexually with the help of Cheryl the tone in his world brightens while Cheryl’s gradual attachment to Mark has some consequences on a personal level. I found the movie had trouble with pace at times and perhaps stretches believability a little too far to create conflict…but when the performances are this good and the work so unnaturally adult in nature some of the more incredible parts are easily forgiven.