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The Sessions (2012)
The Sessions - A film review In a strange and valuable film story, an endearing man struck by polio and now a quadriplegic, charms the pants off of any but the most hardened viewer. The writing is wondrous, the performances are outstanding, and the premise surprisingly simple.
Based on a true story of a bay area man, California based journalist and poet Mark O'Brien, who hired a sex therapist so he would not die a virgin, it turns out that for all his disability, he can still get an erection. Everything flows from that, including a girlfriend and a measure of self esteem.
To this fellow, the Catholic faith is large and important. He asks his new priest Father Brendan, played by William H. Macy, if it would be okay with God if he slept with an unmarried woman. The solution to this is to hire a sex therapist to instruct the eager student on the ways of sex. But what happens in addition, is a captivating release for him of the hangups about his compromised body and the realization the he's not so awfully bad, and indeed, that he can give pleasure to another.
Of course adding to the off-beat humor, is the fact that the humble priest becomes increasingly interested in the adventure, and comes to expect a run down of each session by the sex therapist played smoothly and evenly by the splendid Helen Hunt. Not asking for details, the priest is inevitably rewarded with details each week. Helen Hunt has frontal nudity which is carried off with graceful dignity and her character's matter of fact attitude.
John Hawkes gives an incredible layered performance capturing the acute frustration of having an active agile mind in a body that won't work, while presenting humor, resignation and loneliness in both the moments he's with people and the moments he's alone in his iron lung. He has periods where breathing needs reinforcement but the character shows such bravery in his predicament (and I assume, the actual man Mark), that we simply have no choice but to cheer him on.
Ben Lewin's direction and screenplay are marvelously gentle and poignant, without being maudlin, sensational or lewd. Put together by Fox Searchlight, it's a film worth your time and money, 'The Sessions' goes down with welcome alacrity.
Quotes: Mark O'Brien: 'I believe in a God with a sense of humor. I would find it absolutely intolerable not to be to able blame someone for all this.'