Australian director Ben Lewin has brought a special touch of humanity and humility to his latest project ‘The Sessions’. As a Polio sufferer himself, bringing the real life tale of poet and journalist Mark O’Brien to the big screen means just that little bit more.
Mark (John Hawkes), who is confined to an iron lung for 18 hours a day, has known the emotional love of another (before ultimately being rejected), but has never known the physical side love - until now. During an assignment for an article about sex and the disabled, Mark is introduced to the idea of a sex surrogate and decides, with much trepidation, to explore this new avenue first-hand. He meets Cheryl (Helen Hunt), his guide through these unexplored sexual waters. As a beautiful, caring and most compassionate woman, Mark can’t help but fall in love with her over the period of their sessions together. As a funny, talented and romantic man, Cheryl can’t help but feel for Mark as well, pushing her professional boundaries. As a Catholic, Mark’s physical disabilities clash with his physical and emotional wants and needs - to be valued and cared for - as well as his conflict over how God would view the act of pre-marital sex for someone under his circumstances.
Hunt and Hawkes are stupendous, portraying these superbly real characters in the most intimate and vulnerable moments of their lives together, both emotionally and physically. Hawkes will no doubt receive the full gamut of award nods throughout the upcoming season, as will Hunt. Sharing equally delightful screen time is William H. Macy, playing Father Brendan, Mark’s priest and ultimately friend, who delivers some of the film's funniest and most heartwarming scenes as he and Mark, both so naïve to the subject at hand, try to ease the others' ethical and faith-derived burdens. Moon Bloodgood also deserves praise as Vera, one of Mark’s loyal, stoic and very engaging attendants.
Hunt and Hawkes are stupendous.
While most would look upon Mark’s condition with pity, Mark refuses the gesture and begs to ask the world, "What makes life worth living?" This film is about relationships and the value held of a person by their partner. ‘The Sessions’ is beautifully poignant and sincere. While I felt that the film could have and should have delved deeper into both character’s lives - as this film only highlights a small and very specific portion - it is in no way a poorer film for not doing so. ‘The Sessions’ is a worthwhile trip to the cinema.