The Sessions (Fox Searchlight)
Rated R for strong sexuality including graphic nudity and frank dialogue.
Starring John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy, Moon Bloodgood, Annika Marks, W. Earl Brown, Blake Lindsley, Adam Arkin, Robin Weigert, Rusty Schwimmer, Rhea Perlman, Jenni Baird.
Written and directed by Ben Lewin.
Sex may be a natural and pleasurable situation for most people, but for the disabled, it can be a tricky and sometimes painful experience. The Sessions, a new film based on a true story, examines some of those problems.
John Hawkes plays Mark O'Brien, a very real person who lived most of his life in an iron lung following the debilitating effects of childhood polio. O'Brien was the subject of the 1996 Academy Award-winning short documentary Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien.
The story begins in the late 1980s when O'Brien, a successful writer and poet, decides it's time to lose his virginity. Seeing no viable options for romance, he consults his priest, Father Brendan (William H. Macy) to see if it's possible to "go all the way" with God's blessing. Father Brendan advises him to go ahead, although without invoking evangelical authority on the issue.
O'Brien contacts a local sex studies institute, and is soon referred to Cheryl Cohen Greene (Helen Hunt), a professional sex surrogate. Cheryl begins to meet with Mark during sex sessions at a friend's house, and continues later at a motel. During their sessions, Mark is able to overcome the guilt and other psychological hang ups associated with his disability, while Cheryl begins to have strong feelings for him. Troubles with her husband (Adam Arkin) and some apprehension over joining her spouse's religion adds fuel to her affection for Mark.
The Sessions is an excellent film highlighted by outstanding performances by Hunt and Macy, but it's Hawkes' Oscar-worthy portrayal of O'Brien that really stands out. That said, The Sessions is NOT for everybody, and depicts some graphic nudity, frank sexual conversations and actual sex acts that might make more than a few folks squirm.
Although some liberties were taken with some characters and their relationships in The Sessions, the story is a beautiful depiction of a man who rises above his physical limitations to discover love and intimacy.