Don’t read this review. Look up movie times for The Sessions and go. As you watch the screen (popcorn in one hand, soda in the other, empty wallet on your person), you lose yourself in the room with the naked Helen Hunt and John Hawkes.
Based on the true story of Mark O’ Brien (Hawkes) who after recovering from polio as a boy is confined to an iron lung. He could leave the metal box for only three hours at a time. He’s a poet and journalist. In his late 30s, he’s approached to write a piece on the disabled and sex surrogates. Around the same time, he decides he’s done being a virgin. He meets with a sex surrogate, Cheryl (Hunt). His “research” yields an essay called "On Seeing a Sex Surrogate".
An iron lung (above) is no laughing matter, yet my companion and I, and especially a guy behind us in the small theater laughed a lot.
Strong plot. Great acting. The secondary characters deserve their own movies. Mark’s first caregiver Amanda (Annika Marks) is an emotional seesaw. Rod (W. Earl Brown) is the tough caregiver who pushes Mark. Vera (Moon Bloodgood) is calm and supportive. William H. Macy’s Father Brendan backs Mark’s goal once, he gets past the sex-before-marriage part. Carmen (Jennifer Kumiyama) is the sexually empowered gal in a wheelchair who tells Mark what she likes in bed. Even Rhea Perlman has a bit part. But, it’s the hotel clerk (Ming Lo) who won me over. Even the ‘80s are accurately portrayed with shoulder pads, paisley shirts, clunky boots, cargo pants.
The Sessions spotlights sex surrogacy and gives a peek into the job and its difficulties. Hawkes and Hunt are spectacular. Hunt’s body is amazing (she’s 49) but nonetheless, she’s brave because most of her scenes require full frontal nudity. Both leads deserve acting awards. Hawkes is filmed horizontally for most of the film. It’s distracting but the cinematic discomfort provides the angle with which the world saw him and how it may have been hard to connect.
I teared up. I laughed. I loved it. For a serious topic, this one is hilarious and lighthearted, not the standard for one about disability. Don’t miss it.
Screenplay writer/Director: Ben Lewin
Run time: 95 minutes