Sessions, The (2012)
Release date: October 19, 2012
Director: Ben Lewin
Article by: Mark O’Brien
Screenplay by: Ben Lewin
Cast: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy, Moon Bloodgood
The Sessions isn’t exactly the type of movie that gets much publicity, especially down in this side of the Americas. However, I’ve always enjoyed Helen Hunt’s acting, and matched withJohn Hawkes’s talents, Lewin’s re-telling of Mark O’Brien’s therapy sessions with a sex surrogate seemed like a winning match.
O’Brien (Hawkes) was a journalist/poet who was disabled from the neck down due to polio. Already in his 40s, O’Brien decides to no longer be a virgin — to the dismay of his friend/priest Father Brendan (Macy) — after he begins writing an article on sex and disabilities. This is how he gets in touch with Cheryl (Hunt), a professional sex surrogate who aids him to understand how his body functions and reacts in such situations.
Though O’Brien’s life had already been shown on screen with the Academy Award-winning short documentary, Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien, Lewin’s story solely focuses on the therapy sessions, which means there’s quite a bit of nudity and sex — mainly on Helen Hunt’s part. So, this is kind of a warning if you’re planning to catch this on the plane or anywhere where you might feel awkward.
Even though The Sessions deals with O’Brien’s sexual/romantic pursuits during the film, which also happens to contain several comedic moments — especially during John Hawkes and William H. Macy’s scenes together at church or elsewhere — The Sessions isn’t strictly a romantic comedy nor a romantic dramedy, instead it seems to fluctuate between one or the other to settle in simple life. Despite Helen Hunt garnering all the attention for the clothes-shedding part of the role, there are two scenes in which she is fully-clothed that created the greatest impact: The first one is when she’s in the car and receives O’Brien’s payment, to which she is at the breaking point, but never bursting. The other one, when you catch her holding back the tears at church. It’s the kind of understated acting that Silver Linings Playbook with its histrionics didn’t have, alongside comedy and heartfelt moments, if I may add.
I wasn’t completely taken by Hawkes’ performance, despite the physical challenge that it might have been — take away an actor’s movements, and all he’s got is his facial expressions and tone of voice. Too many times I got glimpses of Sean Penn’s Harvey Milk — in either the face resemblance or the sound of voice. However, he shone the best when Mark had to be comedic and charming, enough to make you understand how the women in O’Brien’s life got involved with him.
My only big gripe about The Sessions is that we spent all of the film seeing Mark and Cheryl interacting with each other, to then witness him meeting the woman of his life, Susan (Robin Weigert). I think they should have broken the ending with simple text. Then again, I would have been deprived of that scene with Helen Hunt by the end. I’m conflicted about that.
Overall, The Sessions is a straightforward narrative that shines the most for its acting, filled with moments and interactions that feel honest and never forced, which actually makes sense, considering it’s all supposed to be based in reality. If details were changed, it seems unlikely, but it all works by engaging its audience on the most basic of levels.