Movie Review: 'The Sessions' - 3 stars
Written and directed by Ben Lewin
Starring John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy
There have been many movies with disabled main characters, but few that have dealt with the sex life of a handicapped person in a sincere fashion. That alone makes "The Sessions," written and directed by Ben Lewin, a worthwhile cinematic endeavor.
But the film, based on a true story, ultimately transcends the specificity of that conceit. It offers a relatable depiction of the powers of a positive mental attitude and the ability to persevere in spite of horrendously bad luck.
John Hawkes stars here as Mark O'Brien, a poet and a journalist crippled by polio, spending most of his life inside an iron lung. Mark's physical struggles have hardly dampened his spirit, though. He's a flirtatious guy who loves women and desperately wants one to love him back.
Eventually, with the approval of Father Brendan (William H. Macy), circumstances lead him to sex therapist Cheryl (Helen Hunt), and the pair begins exploratory sessions meant to culminate in Mark losing his virginity.
"The Sessions" presents a difficult balancing act, an amalgamation of disparate tones conjoined into a humorous flick about a serious subject. Lewin pulls it off in large part by getting out of the way, deferring to his trio of terrific actors.
Hawkes channels the real Mark's playful, poetic spirit, bringing out the three-dimensional human inside the malfunctioning body. His character might be strapped to a gurney or jammed inside his iron lung, but there's an endless curiosity about the world around him and an unrelenting optimism about the future. Hunt and Macy offer strong support, playing characters that similarly defy stereotypes.
Oscar will surely take notice.