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.
“So, this is kind of a warning if you’re planning to catch this on the plane or anywhere where you might feel awkward.”
I know you meant to say this towards me in particular. :P But I’m sure that it would have been chopped out somehow, lol.
While Sessions doesn’t top Seven Psychopaths or Smashed (the films I watched during my flight), I enjoyed the film a lot and I actually have it ranked just one place below Psychopaths and it kicked Django out from my Top 15 ranking. Both Hawkes and Hunt were great here and I agree with the transition on meeting Mark’s wife being not that well executed. It had to happen, but it was a bit rough. But Sessions was also smart in not spending more time with Mark after he met his wife because it would have felt long and redundant to watch.
@Rodrigo, I agree. It would have been drawn and overlong, and it wouldn’t be called “the sessions” if they had taken the time to develop the relationship with his wife. But how could they have made it different to avoid this? Cut the ending scene in the church? Just have the text saying that he got married? I think the film’s strength is that you would want to change it, but you don’t know how you could have changed it.
@amy, Killing him off as soon as he met his wife was the right thing to do. There’s no turning point once he met his wife. Seeing him being at near-death worked well too for dramatic purposes. Maybe expanding a bit more the “sessions” between Mark and Cheryl would be an alternative by conversations or sex scenes that would also show Hawkes’s dick (which would automatically put Sessions on NC-17 territory)… or the convos between Mark and the priest, which were pretty damn funny.
@Rodrigo, there had been discussions about why Hawke’s nudity wasn’t as extreme as Hunt’s had to be. One of the reasons was that, yes, seeing Hawke in full frontal nudity would have been an automatic NC-17. However, someone else mentioned that maybe it was a practical shooting decision, since Hawke’s supposedly used a football to get the curvature of Mark’s spine, so not showing the football there by removingi t with CGI would have added extra costs to the production. Others said that they chickened out of showing a man with disabilities in the nude.
On the other hand, I loved Mark’s interactions with the priest, I think William H. Macy was very overlooked even at the Indie Spirits. At least both Hawkes and Hunt won their nods there, which made for a very satisfying news read.
@amy, Shooting the spine thing looked challenging, I guess. Indie films can’t go overbudget, but this could have used some maybe.
Hawkes going full frontal would have allowed some easy blowjob jokes for Hunt to work with. But also, an NC-17 would have erased her from the Oscars race (but not the Globes… if they nom’d Fassbender for Shame, then Hunt and Hawkes getting in wouldn’t be a problem). And maybe some backlash from disabled people communities too.
So easy solution: more time with the priest and maybe Macy could have gotten in at the Indie Spirits (and maybe even beat McConaughey’s evil stripper pimp since the ISA loved Sessions a lot).
@Rodrigo, I think they stayed close to what really happened with the sessions, so I’m unsure blowjob jokes would have been able to be included.
I liked the fact that the film is from Mark’s POV, so whoever calling the story bullshit coz three hot women couldn’t fall in love with a guy like him, the answer is that it’s from Mark’s POV, maybe we perceive that these women loved him because it’s his POV. Maybe he only thought Hunt’s character fell for him, but maybe she didn’t. We’ll never actually know…