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Director: Ben Lewin
Writer: Ben Lewin
Cast: Helen Hunt, John Hawkes, William H. Macy, Moon Bloodgood, Adam Arkin, Annika Marks, Rhea Perlman, W. Earl Brown, Robin Weigert, Blake Lindsley, Ming Lo, Rusty Schwimmer, Jennifer Kumiyama, Tobias Forrest, Jarrod Bailey
Synopsis: A man in an iron lung who wishes to lose his virginity contacts a professional sex surrogate with the help of his therapist and priest.
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong sexuality including graphic nudity and frank dialogue
One Man's Journey to Finding Love
"The Sessions" may not be the best love story that I've ever seen, nor would I ever dare say it's the most heartfelt. However, it is very entertaining nonetheless; which is more than I can say for most films that fall within the same genre. Based on a true story.
"The Sessions" follows a man named Mark O'Brien (John Hawkes), whom has lived almost his whole life requiring an iron lung to breath, due to polio. He's unable to move his body from the neck down, but he's managed to make quite a life for himself, as a professional poet writer. Sadly, at 38 years old, he's still a virgin, and he's never had a serious relationship before in his life.
Needless to say, Mark is very lonely, and wants to be with a girl before he dies. At first, he hires a new nurse that's fresh out of college. She has no experience, but he hires her anyway, in hopes that she'll fall in love with him. Although she is taken by him a bit, as she sees him as a sweet guy. However, she already has a boyfriend; hence she quits the moment he confesses his love to her.
I know most readers are probably thinking that might be the premise of the movie, but there's more to the story than that.
Shortly afterwards, Mark sees a therapist, who advises him to see a sex surrogate. Confused about this, he asks his priest, Father Brendan (William H. Macy), for advice. Father Brendan plays the closest thing to a best friend for Mark. Granted, Mark still has his nurses that take care of him, but he often relies on his priest for guidance. In an unlikely turn of events, Father Brendan gives Mark his blessing, and tells him to go for it; hence Mark seeks out a sex surrogate.
For those who don't know what a sex surrogate is, then I'll gladly explain. A sex surrogate is a person that has sex with people for money, while teaching them how to do it right in the process. Unlike a prostitute that wants repeat business, a sex surrogate is limited to a number of six sessions, and the goal is to teach the client how to have sex, to where their services are no longer needed. At least, that's how it's described in the film. Enter Helen Hunt (Meryl).
Meryl is a professional sex surrogate, and a typical soccer mom with a house, a teenage kid, and a husband. Upon meeting her, you wouldn't suspect that she was a sex surrogate, but looks can be deceiving. After an awkward first meeting, she takes Mark on a journey to manhood, which prompts them to form a bond that touches both their lives forever. And, that's basically all readers really need to know about the story; without giving away too much.
However, I will say one more thing. If you think this film settles for a stereotypical Hollywood ending, then you'll be dead wrong. "The Sessions" is a lot smarter than that, as it tells a unique, and engaging, story that's both believable, and a bit touching as well. Granted, I wouldn't say this is the most heartfelt love story that I've seen, but it would be hard to argue that it wasn't a good film.
It's an engaging story that's very well written, and deserving of recognition. I was especially impressed by the acting performances throughout the movie. William H. Macy delivers a dry sense of humor that fits the tone of the film perfectly. Although he seems to play his character as more of a friend than a typical priest, it still comes off genuinely likable.
As for John Hawkes, I was fairly impressed by his performance as well. He manages to bring a sly sarcastic sense of humor to his character that's very engaging to watch. Granted, you still feel sympathetic for his character, during key moments in the film, but you still get a sense that he's a man that genuinely tries to look at the bright side of life through humor; which makes you can't help but admire his character. If anything, I'm surprised John Hawkes wasn't nominated for an Oscar this year, as he definitely deserves it for this role.
Speaking of Oscar nominees, lets talk about Helen Hunt for a minute. Although I doubt she'll win the Oscar this year, she's definitely well deserving of her nomination. Not only does she play a role that requires a lot of internal conflict, as it's obvious Meryl herself begins to harbor feelings for Mark over time. Maybe those feelings were that of love. Or perhaps, she loves him more as a close friend, but doesn't want to risk hurting him. It's never made certain exactly what her feelings are for John, but what is certain though is her performance reeks of subtlety and grace. Even when she says very little in certain parts of the film, you can still see the internal conflict her character endures, as she conveys it through her body language and facial expression. It's truly a sight to see.
Anyways, I wouldn't dare call this movie the best romantic drama that I've seen, and it does seem to rush past certain moments throughout the movie. For example, when it talks about Mark's childhood, it tells us just enough to let the audience know about it, but it never slows down enough to where the viewer can take it all in. It never allows the film to slow down just enough to feel for Mark's plight. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't ruin the movie by any means, but it's still worth pointing out.
Overall, "The Sessions" is good romantic film for those yearning for a well told love story that won't talk down to it's audience. In the end, I would have to give it a three out of four. If you haven't seen it yet, then what are you waiting for? Go check it out, as you won't be disappointed.