At the age of 38, Mark O'Brien, a man who uses an iron lung, decides he no longer wishes to be a virgin. With the help of his therapist and his priest, he contacts Cheryl Cohen-Greene, a professional sex surrogate and a typical soccer mom with a house, a mortgage and a husband. Inspired by a true story, The Sessions, follows the fascinating relationship which evolves between Cheryl and Mark as she takes him on his journey to manhood.Written by
Bill Hillman - Reporter:
Mark O'Brien has been going to UC Berkley since 1978. That's O'Brien in the motorized gurney heading for class last week. He had polio when he was six years old. The disease left his body crippled, but his mind remained sharp and alert. And since he wanted to be a writer, Mark O'Brien entered Cal to major in English and learn his trade. He wrote this poem for us about school here and about graduation.
Graduation. Today I hear the crowd's applause. Receive the congratulations from ...
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Writer and founder of a small press which published works by disabled authors, Mark O'Brien, was struck completely disabled and iron lung- dependent by polio when he was young, and he has a goal: He wants to enjoy the pleasures of a woman before he "reaches his use-by date", as he puts it. The line is delivered by John Hawkes, who plays O'Brien, with both the sense of humour, and the sensitivity, which typifies the handling of the subject matter in 'The Sessions'.
Ben Lewin, whose work has been primarily in TV and documentaries, brings John Hawkes together with Helen Hunt in a screen partnership that has to be one of the most intimate and trusting I have seen between two actors for some time. Hunt was up for an Oscar for her portrayal of professional sex surrogate Cheryl, who takes on the task of helping Mark achieve his goal. Their encounters are beautifully played, with the balance of awkwardness, fear and joy well judged enough that you truly feel in the room. The scenes seem raw and real, and the result of the writing is one of a film which does not snigger, nor encourage sniggering, at the idea of sex on screen; there is a directness, and explicitness about the issue, which to my pleasant surprise, actually manages to underscore the importance of the emotional resonance of sex, and its importance in our life. It would be easy to imagine this simply becomes a dirty joke. To the contrary, the sex is not sexy, but rather functional; the conversations they have and the depiction of Mark's struggle with his journey to manhood, becomes touching. There is something in the way sex is explored that brings to mind what D H Lawrence was trying to do with his infamous classic; rather than nudge and wink, the story looks directly at what sex is and why it matters.
Frustatingly, the direction seems shy of delving into the personal relationships and history of Cheryl; it also seems intent on putting the female form on full show whilst never completely exposing the male at the centre of the story. If this was an artistic choice, I wonder what the aim was; one would assume, in fact, that as the story moves forward, both character would become more exposed. The film also struggles to bring a key character to life; Father Brendan, played by the ever reliable William H. Macy, never seems complete. It is hard to pin down why, because Macy does not do anything wrong, but there is something in the scenes featuring Mark and the priest, which despite some deftly delivered humour, feel tough to buy.
The heart of the film is that central relationship, though. Limited to six sessions, for obvious reasons, we watch an unusual, touching bond grow, and despite the hurried nature of the story arc, it makes 'The Sessions' worth your time.
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