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The Sessions More at IMDbPro »

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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Hilariously and romantically poignant tale of an inspiring figure.

Author: Koundinya from India
29 January 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

True story of a Mark O'Brien(John Hawkes) with an iron lung, confined to a stretcher, who, with the help of a sex surrogate and a priest slakes his pleasure of having sex.

He's a devout catholic who thinks his present condition is the act of God. He seeks the help of a priest, Father Brendan(William H. Macy) who listens to him patiently and counsels him and exhorts him as to go ahead with whatever that he judged was right.

I have mixed feelings about the movie. I'm flummoxed as to whether feel sorry for his disability or laugh at the inherent theme of him trying to achieve his sexual desires, a quest he entertains us with his jokes.

I was not really sure I could distinguish a prostitute, a woman who performs sex for money, and a sex surrogate, who helps people meet their pleasures, more of a service-oriented-awareness-providing profession (?). I have a better understanding of the differences.

Helen Hunt was rightly nominated for her performance as a sex surrogate, Cheryl, who has a private life and family of her own, a woman who makes the disabled man feel the warmth of love. John Hawkes and Ben Lewin have been snubbed a Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role and Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen Oscars respectively.

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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Uplifting story of severely disabled polio victim aided by sexual surrogate

Author: Turfseer from United States
26 January 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

How do you make a dramatic movie about a guy who's in an iron lung most of the day? Well, they manage to pull it off in the true life story, 'The Sessions'. John Hawkes, known for a couple of psycho roles in 'Winter Bones' and 'Martha Macy May Marlene', magnificently transforms himself into the severely handicapped Mark O'Brien, disabled since childhood with polio and forced to live in an iron lung, except for about four hours per day. O'Brien is not technically paralyzed but his muscles are useless, and he can only move his lips and neck. He gets out of the house on a gurney, pushed by attendants working on day and night shifts.

'The Sessions' manages not to be maudlin or heavy handed due to the remarkable personality of O'Brien. In spite of the crushing limitations of his life, O'Brien manages to be relatively optimistic. He writes poetry and communicates with others, not expressing self-pity, but with a wry sense of humor. His confidante is Father Brendan, a liberal priest, winningly played by William H. Macy. When O'Brien informs Father Brendan that he seeks to lose his virginity by employing a sex surrogate, the good Father notes that having sex outside of marriage is a sin. But given O'Brien's situation, Father Brendan wisely adds that in this case, he believes that God can make an "exception".

The bulk of 'The Sessions' revolves around O'Brien's session with sex surrogate, Cheryl Cohen-Greene (professionally played by Helen Hunt). At first, O'Brien is deathly afraid of the encounters with Cohen-Greene, but she soon gets him to relax and he's able to have intercourse with her. Initially, they agree on eight sessions but cut things off after six, as Cohen-Greene finds that O'Brien is falling in love with her and her emotions are getting in the way too.

There are other characters that drift in and out of O'Brien's life, including Amanda, a volunteer with the disabled, who befriends O'Brien, but eventually has to move away, due to guilt feelings about not wanting to have an intimate relationship with him. One of O'Brien's attendants, Vera, also adds a great deal of texture to O'Brien's moving journey. Eventually, a woman, Susan, becomes O'Brien's partner for the rest of the five years of his life and provides him with meaningful companionship.

One scene that doesn't completely ring true is Cohen-Greene's husband, Josh, becoming jealous over a letter O'Brien sends her. On the plus side, the film is also not without a moment of high drama when there's a power failure and O'Brien is trapped in a non-functioning iron lung without anyone there to help him.

The Session's director, Ben Lewin, a polio survivor himself, lends his expertise on the subject to the production. One critic felt that the film needed to be truer to the real-life O'Brien's writings.

Nonetheless, due to its fine performances, 'The Sessions' appears to rise above standard TV movie fare. It's a touching story about a man whose spirit soared, despite crippling physical limitations.

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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

A journey of hang-ups, physical challenges & the many strands of love.

Author: TheSquiss
24 January 2013

It's not difficult to see why The Sessions was a double winner at Sundance. The surprise is that the only nod from Oscar is for Helen Hunt as Cheryl, the sex surrogate, employed by Mark O'Brien (John Hawkes), a polio-afflicted poet paralysed from the neck down due to muscle failure. Well, some of them.

Based on the published essay by O'Brien, The Sessions is a touching, emotive film about a man who, when commissioned to write an article about sex for the disabled, faces up to his own demons that stem from blame, catholic guilt and a lack of love but have blossomed into a failure to, in his own mind, become a man. Why? Because in his mid-thirties, Mark is still a virgin. Enter Cheryl (no pun intended), a sex surrogate who makes it clear from the outset that she is emphatically not a prostitute. Prostitutes, she explains, want your repeat business while Mark and her other clients are limited to a maximum of six sessions.

Make no mistake, The Sessions is an adult film, but don't think for a moment this is wheelchair porn. If you want cheap, kinky kicks, this is not the place for you. This is a film that requires an adult level of maturity to benefit fully from the tale and the emotions within, irrespective of physical age. Yes, there is nudity. No, it is not titillating. It might well be Cheryl's job, but she clearly cares for her client and the emotions wheedle their way to her core and effect her deeply.

Central to The Sessions are the nuanced performances from the ensemble, for this is not merely a film of two stars. Yes, both Hunt and Hawkes captivate us fully; she with her sensitivity that wears an armour of humour and brashness, Hawkes with a performance of a childlike man who takes on the world with words and his own, dark humour, but is crippled in many more ways than the obvious. Mark is a witty character in a harsh situation who, rather than wallow in self pity, fights back with droll swipes "I believe in a God with a sense of humour. I would find it intolerable not to be able to blame someone for all this." But as with Cheryl, he wears a mask and it is a struggle for him to deal with his own, hidden truths.

Beyond the two 'stars', William H. Macy is on as good a form as ever as Father Brendan, the priest who takes Mark's confessions and must guide him way beyond his own, catholic comfort zone. There's nothing stereotypical or predictable about Father Brendan. We never see him with a full congregation where he is confident at the head of the church, rather we see a man in unfamiliar territory who finds the humanity of God despite the damning views of the 'church'. It is as much a revelation to him as it is funny for us when he supports Mark's quest: "I have a feeling that God is going to give you a free pass on this one. Go for it." Vera (Falling Skies' Moon Bloodgood) brings a gentle sincerity to The Sessions as Mark's care assistant who sees a great deal but says little until it matters. Though the least 'showy' of the principals, she shines because she is delightfully controlled. Her evolvement is subtle but she flourishes in her new job and Mark thrives from her input in his life.

The mild criticism, but significant nonetheless, is that one is left dissatisfied with Cheryl's thread within the film. Certainly we understand that she must keep her personal and business lives separate but they clearly become confused and writer/director Ben Lewin allows us into her home and family life to see who she really is. So why doesn't he show us how or why she took on this role? What does her husband, Josh (Adam Arkin), truly think? Is her son aware of what she does for a living? How the heck did Cheryl and Josh first broach this subject? Maybe Lewin feels it would distract us or detract from Mark's story, but that is a disservice to the viewer. We would feel more involved and might be either further drawn in, or perhaps challenged, if we had a greater understanding of her family's thoughts and The Sessions would be richer for a glance at the potential moral dilemma.

However, this is a minor gripe and it makes The Sessions just an extremely good film rather than a perfect experience. For those who aren't familiar with Lewin's work, he is largely a documentarian and TV scriptwriter with this being his first feature as either writer or director since 1994's Lucky Break. What a return! Lewin has gifted us a story of beautiful people overcoming hang-ups, prejudices and physical challenges, on a journey that is ultimately about the many strands of love. What a joy.

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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Refreshing, Honest and Most of All Funny

Author: Parks from United Kingdom
23 January 2013

Mark O'Brien developed polio at the age of six. The disease ravaged his body, leaving him with little control over his muscles. But he didn't let it stop him. He travels about on a motorised gurney which allows him to attend college and earn his degree, and from there he earns a living as a writer and poet.

We find this out about him in the first two minutes of the movie.

At the age of 38, Mark goes through a number of experiences that lead him to believe he is missing out on something. Sex. After falling in love with his carer (she handles it badly) and writing a series of articles on sex and the disabled, he decides that he has been a virgin long enough. But as a committed Catholic he discusses it with his priest first. He gets an unexpected response -

Mark engages the services of a professional sex surrogate. Cheryl works at the referral of a sex therapist, and helps disabled people gain confidence to the point where they can have full sexual relationships by having six sex sessions with them. No more than six.

It's an awkward situation and Mark is terrified. But Cheryl is thoughtful and kind and if her manner is somewhat clinical she is also understanding and patient. She finds herself not hindered so much by Mark's condition, but by the guilt that plagues him. Not about sex outside of marriage, but that someone like him could deserve any sort of love at all.

How the two get through this is by turns, sad, touching and really REALLY funny. I am not exaggerating if I tell you that this is one of the funniest films I have seen in a long time and way better than some of the actual comedies I've sat through recently. And it wasn't just me. The crowd was HOWLING at some of the lines. Mark is a funny dude (brilliantly played by John Hawkes) William H Macy can be funny just by raising an eyebrow, and the frank discussions of sex are refreshingly blunt and to the point.

But this isn't actually a film about sex. It's a film about love. And while Cheryl and Mark might try to separate the two and have a therapist/client relationship, feelings cannot help but develop. Because sex isn't purely a physical act. While you might never weep with joy over a fish supper or whoop with ecstasy over a bacon roll, you just can't sleep with someone and not feel connected. It's an issue. Cheryl worries about Mark's "transferance", but she needs to worry about her own feelings - and the feelings of her husband too.

"The Sessions" is the best film I've seen in a long long time. The screenplay (adapted from O'Brien's own article) is very real - after a while the characters feel like people you've come to know and like. The direction is honest and straightforward - no manipulation, no dressing things up - almost like they've plonked the cameras down in someone's home and left them running. And the acting is bloody superb. I never really liked Helen Hunt before, but she gives a fantastic performance here. There's been a lot of writing about the fact that she's in the nip for a lot of the film - but it's not Hollywood Nip. It's Real Life Nip, where people walk around in their keks before bed and slip off for a wee without bothering to put pants back on.

Do yourself a favour and go and see this. It's up against Zero Dark Twenty and Lincoln at the Oscars, but I really hope it walks off with everything.

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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Genuine feel-good drama, which is never twee or overly sentimental

Author: octopusluke from Denmark
17 January 2013

I expected the insipidly titled The Sessions to be one of two movies. Firstly, it could have been an indie darling. Dished up to the swooshing Sundance Film Festival and the annual Little Miss Sunshine-worshiping crowd as a brave (meaning that the two leads are unsympathetically filmed in their fleshy birthday suits), and treacly (meaning, well, treacly) look at relationships and the woeful public perception of disability.

Secondly, it could have been a Judd Apatow movie. An overlong and ultimately unsuccessful exercise in balancing arcane screwball comedy about awkward sex, whilst still trying to say something prophetic about relationships and the woeful public perception of disability. Thankfully, The Sessions is neither of these things.

Based on the self-penned article On Seeing a Sex Surrogate', it's the true story of Mark O'Brien, a semi-polarized survivor of polio who spends his life being pushed around on a gurney by day, and sleeping in an iron lung at night. He's accomplished a lot for a man of such limited physical capacity; charming character played by charming character actor John Hawkes (Winter's Bone, Martha Marcy May Marlene), who acts his socks off without ever lifting a finger.

But there's something missing in Mark's life: sex. After a trepidatious hunt for the right service, Mark hires surrogate sex therapist Cheryl (Helen Hunt) to fulfill his needs. Like most fumbling male virgins, the road to sexual prowess proves bumpy (so I hear). Caught between a rock and a not-so-hard place, Mark seeks sexual advice in the laid-back catholic clergyman, Father Brendan (played by the ever-segacious old owl, William H. Macy). Through the six sessions, Mark is sexually liberated, and his heartstrings are plucked.

It could have been a source for crude slapstick comedy, but director and adapted screenplay writer Ben Lewin doesn't settle for cheap sight gags and befuddled pious figures. The unflinchingly presented scenarios are certainly humiliating, but more poignant then hilarious. When we do laugh, Mark is in on the joke, more often than not he is telling it; from his belief in 'a god with a sinister sense of humour' to jousting with the priest about sexual positions.

While Hawkes' astounding performance comes as expected, Helen Hunt is the real revelation and beating heart of the film. Her Oscar nominated appearance as the naked counselor is so multifaceted and melancholic. A career best for her, in so few words Hunt manages to detail how Cheryl gets just as much emotional connect out of 'the sessions' as Mark does.

It's not twee, laugh out loud hilarious or deeply profound; it's not even that remarkable. What Ben Lewin does deliver is a drama-comedy in the purest sense, filled with fantastic performances, an excellent script and an unashamedly feel-good factor at it's core.

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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Best film of 2012

Author: mikezexcel from United States
16 January 2013

Don't let the notion that if you've seen one handicapped-person movie you've seen them all prevent you from seeing this extraordinary film. It simply gets to your heart without overplaying its emotions.

It is not a sunny tale of overcoming one's handicap. It is more of a clear-eyed look at one man's attempt to experience what most of us take for granted, specifically sexual pleasure. That said, it is not a "raunchy" film, and the surprising lack of profanity belies the subject matter.

Having a priest as his confidant frames the topic of sex in a Biblical context, and why shouldn't it? As is pointed out, no subject covers more ground in the good book! O'Brien was a religious man, but even the less devout mind accepts it's the most basic function of living things. O'Brien is more or less talked into seeing what he is missing.

The film is funny and moving thanks to its note-perfect script, and superb acting and direction. I have not been moved to tears in very many films lately, but this one does the trick. It's easier to understand why any film would fail rather than succeed in that respect. Trying too hard to showcase emotional moments with over-the-top acting and heightened drama always leaves me cold. None of that in THE SESSIONS; it is naturalistic throughout.

I have to say I am disappointed Hawkes didn't receive an Oscar nomination. What he accomplishes with his speech and limited movements is unforgettable.

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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

A touching film

Author: Gordon-11 from Earth
13 January 2013

This film is about a paralysed man who seeks professional help from a sex surrogate in order to experience sex.

"The Sessions" has a simple and straightforward plot, but it is incredibly moving. It approaches sex with a straight to the point, matter of fact manner, which hopefully helps people in similar situations to be comfortable with sex. I am surprised that the filmmakers managed to find a well known actress to play the role of the therapist, and I applaud Helen Hunt for taking this challenging role. She plays the emotional part very well, as the very brief scenes with her husband already shows the emotional rift between them. Towards the end, it gets so touching twice in a very short amount of time with little build up. "The Sessions" is a very good film, and I hope people will go and watch it.

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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Wonderful film-John Hewkes robbed of ocsar nomination

Author: Leigh Shalloway from United States
12 January 2013

I really feel that John Hawkes was robbed of a academy award nomination. He was touching witty and the movie was so moving. Im glad that Helen Hunt was at least recognized but this was a movie that stayed with me for days after seeing it. I can only assume that the subject matter may have been too controversial, or that the movie had such a limited release. Still a real oversite for the Oscars.

William s. Macy was also very strong and witty in his role but Hawkes was the soul of the film. This makes it all the more proplexing as to why he wasn't nominated. Well I hope this review will help get more serious movie fans to seek the film out.

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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

A movie that deals with a subject that is so common in movies and yet uncomfortable to most American minds: sex.

Author: The_Film_Cricket from Birmingham, Alabama
27 December 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"The Sessions" is movie that deals with a subject that is so common in movies and yet uncomfortable to most American minds: sex. Sex is commonplace in movies and yet is rarely ever taken with any degree of seriousness. Whereas European movies deal with the subject frankly and honestly, American films turn sex into something filthy or as a comic punchline. "The Sessions" deals with the subject with maturity, openness and even a measure of grace. That this material is handled so well in a comedy is nothing short of a miracle.

The movie tells the true story of Mark O'Brien (John Hawkes), a 38 year-old poet whose muscles were rendered immobile by polio when he was a kid. Mark is a real person, who wrote an article in 1990 called "On Seeing a Sex Surrogate." This is that story. Mark has spent his life either in an iron lung or with a portable oxygen machine. The first time we hear him speak, we understand right away that he asks for no sympathy. He is not a wounded saint who wants to ennoble the world; he's just a guy in a predicament.

Something in Mark's mind makes him believe that his condition doesn't leave him long to live. His last wish before he dies seems complicated, but doesn't seem unreasonable. He wants to lose his virginity and he enlists his straight-thinking caregiver Vera (Moon Bloodgood) for help. It is suggested that he get help from a sex therapist, who agrees to act as a sex surrogate. The gift from the sky is an attractive blond named Cheryl (Helen Hunt) who agrees to meet with him, yet lays out a series of ground rules. She will meet with him for six sessions and no more. She explains plainly that she is a sex therapist, not a prostitute. She will help him understand his body and to explore sex even though he cannot move. Mark has feeling in his body, you see, but can't move his muscles.

This is a complicated set-up, especially given that Mark is Catholic. He goes to confession with his priest Father Brenden (William H. Macy) who is conflicted himself. Brenden cannot give his blessing to what is essentially fornication because any sex outside of the institution of marriage is a mortal sin. This could have played for bad laughs, but Mark is serious about his faith and is asking the priest for spiritual guidance. After a time, the good Father smiles and blesses Marks request with a wonderful bit of dialogue: "I know in my heart that God will give you a free pass on this one. Go for it." Mark meets with Cheryl for several sessions and indeed they do have sex. Director Ben Lewis, who also wrote the screenplay, handles the sex scenes with frankness and tenderness. We do, indeed, see Helen Hunt naked several times but the movie never veers into the trashy or disgusting territory. This is a movie about a man discovering sex, not about the act itself.

The two performances by John Hawkes and Helen Hunt walk a very fine tightrope, giving us two people who take sex seriously and treat it with maturity. John Hawkes, who plays Mark, is a good actor who has been around for a few years but hasn't found general recognition. He was nominated for an Oscar three years ago for "Winter's Bone" and last year gave a chilling performance as a cult leader in "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and can be seen right now in a small role as a wheeler-dealer in "Lincoln." He handles this difficult role with a lot of skill and tact. Not only is he required to play a man who cannot move, but he infuses him with a lot of personality, spirituality and humor. A lesser actor would have played the role for pity, but Hawkes finds a way to play this unusual role and make us feel that he is just a regular guy. This is a great performance that should get him an Oscar nomination. He is matched by Helen Hunt, who plays Cheryl as a complete professional. She is intelligent and takes her job very seriously. Yes, there is a hint of romance between the two but the movie doesn't go where we expect.

"The Sessions" is the kind of movie that you don't think that you want to see until you've seen it. The description turns some people off, but if you see it, you won't be disappointed. Here is a movie that treats sex with tact and seriousness but doesn't shy away from a tender kind of comedy that isn't laughing at the characters but lets the humor flow from them as people.


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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

The Sessions (2012) - The True Life-Changing Story of Mark O' Brien

Author: nickmesafilms ( from United States
10 December 2012

Once a year, Hollywood brings yet another inspirational movie about those with serious disabilities with dreams of changing their own lives, from "The Elephant Man" to "My Left Foot". Now, we are given the inspirational true story of the late Mark O'Brien in "The Sessions", and what we are given is one of the most memorable movies of the whole year. John Hawkes delivers an excellent performance as the real journalist and poet Mark O'Brien, whom was infected with polio, confined to an iron lung, as a child. About to soon reach his due date, while at age 38, he wishes to lose his virginity before his time on Earth will be over. He then hires a professional sex surrogate, played wonderfully by Helen Hunt, to help guide him through various sex sessions, until they start to have feelings for each other. With the help of his sex therapist, and the priest, played by William H. Macy, whom he shares daily blessings to, Mark O'Brien is determined to make his last days the happiest. "The Sessions" is a deeply uplifting film that can easily tug all of our heartstrings. John Hawkes is downright believable playing the light-hearted O'Brien, and his affection can buy the trust of audiences, in a performance that will score him another Oscar nomination, only this time, in the leading category. Helen Hunt shows off her body (literally) and soul into this performance, and she nails it in the scenes that she's in, whom will might get a Best Supporting Actress nomination. William H. Macy, although has limited opportunities to show Oscar-worthy material, he still does a rather fine job in the role, delivering a very important performance, as the one who supports O'Brien through his troubles, and blesses he will succeed in his accomplishments. Although I will say the writing is very good, and the overall message is truly uplifting, I see "The Sessions" more as an "actor film" than anything else. But, overall, this is a very realistic flick with unique writing, two Oscar-worthy performances, and an endearing message still power up the film's heat, even if it ranges to good, instead of excellent. "The Sessions", in my review, "realistic execution, and emotionally satisfying".

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