Friday, November 23, 2012


Review by James Colt Harrison

We haven’t seen Oscar® winner Helen Hunt on screen for awhile, but she returns in the very-adult-themed film The Sessions, destined to be in the running for the Oscar® race coming up soon. Hunt spent several years wasted in insignificant films of no consequence. But here she returns in full control of her considerable acting chops, and reminds us what a fine actress she really is and how beautiful she is in her plain-ness.

First of all, it’s based on a true story about a real character—38 year-old disabled Mark O’Brien (played brilliantly by acting chameleon John Hawkes). And secondly, it confronts O’Brien’s need to lose his virginity head-on, without apologies or coyness. He figures he should take care of his lack of sexual experience before his “use-by” date expires. He has been paralyzed from the neck down since a childhood bout with polio. Forget feeling sorry for O’Brien because the film is very funny while being tempered with some tears. It’s not completely an old-fashioned “weepie,” but it does have heart and tenderness sprinkled amongst the laughs.

Mark is a devout Catholic who looks to his priest ( a hippie-looking, shaggy-haired  William H. Macy) for advice on what to do. Somewhat taken aback, Macy’s priest has never been confronted with such a dilemma. Should he give permission to find someone to have sex with or not? He demurs, but agrees some kind of “therapy” would be appropriate.

The therapy comes in the form of Ms. Hunt as Cheryl Greene, who plays a sex worker, or “sex surrogate.” Agreeing to merely six sessions, Greene is gentle and understanding with O’Brien and brings out the humor in the situation. Disrobing without shame or embarrassment, Ms. Hunt manages to capture what is supposedly the correct method of getting started easily with an awkward situation. Several hilarious scenes crop up when O’Brien “misfires” his ardor and the sessions are very short, indeed.

Both Hawkes (Winter’s Bone, Martha Marcy May Marlene) and the formidable Hunt are a delight to watch as they both capture the humor and the pathos associated with this true story. This is one of those pictures we all hunger for as a breather from the explosion and comic book character films. It’s an excellent film and a pleasure to cry and laugh at Australian director Ben Lewin’s interpretation of this sensitive subject. The film and the actors are sure to be in contention for nominations come Academy Awards® time.


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