I believe in a God with a sense of humor. I would find it absolutely intolerable not to be able to blame someone for all this.
When I first considered watching the Sessions I asked my mother if she wanted to watch it with me. At first she thought I was joking. Upon realizing I was not, she nicely said “I think that would be a little awkward.” Needless to say I went into this film without much knowledge about it. After my mother’s reaction I expected some raunchy material. What I did not expect was an extremely uplifting and heartfelt film.
The Sessions is the true story of Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes), a 38 year old man that is almost completely immobilized by Polio. He is not paralyzed, his muscles just don’t work right. A poet at heart, Mark lives with the help of a number of different attendants. He sleeps in an Iron Lung, is wheeled around town on a gurney and he has decided he would like to have sexual intercourse for the first time. After falling in love with on of his attendants Amanda (Annika Marks) and losing her, Mark works with Vera (Moon Bloodgood) and Rod (W. Earl Brown). A religious man, Mark confides his desire to have intercourse with Father Brendan (William H. Macy). With the reverends permission, Mark contacts a professional sex surrogate named Cheryl Cohen-Green (Helen Hunt). A married woman whose husband knows what she does, Mark goes through sexual therapy with her and Cheryl helps Mark to have sex with her for the first time. As Cheryl and Mark work together they are forced to deal with the feelings that develop between them.
This was a brilliantly acted film, running through a range of emotions. Both leads were outstanding. Helen Hunt is an emotionally strong woman that has a job that demands sex without getting too attached to the sexual partner. We watch however as Mark’s attitude and outlook on life breaks her down and draws her to him. John Hawkes is outstanding as Mark and I am absolutely outraged that he did not receive a Best Actor Nomination. Unable to really move, Hawkes creates his character with voice and expressions. Hawkes shows that Mark was a gentle man, a man who had all the reason in the world to be angry but just was not. William H. Macy was perfect as Reverend Brendan, a man who started as Mark’s religious adviser and ended up being his friend.
The Sessions was filmed and shot with a slightly odd timeline. Everything did not necessarily happen in a linear order. A scene will suddenly evaporate into Mark sharing his experience with the Reverend or Cheryl’s voice will reveal that she is taking verbal notes on a tape recorder. We are never sure if what we are watching is a recalled moment from one of the character’s memories and when it is a recall scene, we don’t know who is recalling it. This storytelling method allows us to get unique perspectives on all the characters and really works to fuel character development. Though the film is only an hour and a half and seems to go very quickly, we get to know the characters extremely well.
This film was full of some very sexual material but was somehow sweet and uplifting. We follow a man who turns out to have one of the most uplifting outlooks on life and the woman who derives so much pleasure from helping him that she can barely let him go once their time is up. Helen Hunt certainly deserved her Best Actress nomination but I do not think she has much of a chance at winning nor should she. John Hawkes should be among those nominated for Best Actor , giving an outstanding performance. This is an 8 out of 10 film, a great film but not one that should have been nominated for Best Picture (which is was not). I do highly recommend it but know there is a lot of sexual content so be careful who you watch it with.