The Sessions Reviews
Sex, religion, poetry and the disabled may be the guiding themes, but it is emotional vulnerability that makes it unforgettable. Tackling a subject that calls for tact and discretion, we explore the taboos of sex and the guilt associated in a man singularly unique situation through compelling characters and wonderful acting to become genuinely engaged and touched by humanity.
Paralyzed and confined to an iron lung after contracting polio as a child, 38 year old Mark O'Brien (John Hawkes) is not a victim to his condition. Graduating school and gaining independent employment as a writer and poet, Mark and his wonderfully active mind have achieved so much including a wonderfully wicked sense of humor of which he uses to shock his ever present carers and the patient Father Brendan (William H. Macy) .
When asked to write an article about the subject sex and the disabled, Marks interest turns from discussions with similarly inflicted people to his own sexual experience and lack thereof. Desperately horny and embarrassed by his body's reactions to physical contact, Mark concludes he needs to lose his virginity before he dies.
After talking it over morally with the good father and getting a contact from his therapist, Mark contacts professional sexual surrogate, Cheryl Cohen-Greene (Helen Hunt) who address not only his key issue of physical intimacy but his underlying issues of self-worth.
There are clear rules of their engagement; to aid in Mark's body awareness and achieve intercourse within a maximum of 6 sessions at which time they must say goodbye, however it is Marks request for Cheryl to gain gratification during their 4th session that gives the arrangement a tender emotional element.
What transpires behind the closed doors will not only change Mark, but those around him in equal measure.
Inhabiting every aspect of O'Brien's character, physicality and emotional state, Hawkes portrayal is virtuoso. Hunt is supremely comfortable in her own skin and in its exposure, brave, honest and graceful; the 49-year-old is nothing short of a revelation. Their therapeutic sessions are invigoratingly candid and explicit without every approaching exploitative territory.
Macy is skillfully measured for relief whilst having the deportment to absolve his subjects carnal urges, and O'Brien's three other significant female influences, Annika Marks as volunteer Amanda (the spark of his carnal awakening), Moon Bloodgood as his carer Vera (who supports his endevour), and Robin Weigert as his last love Susan (the one who embraces his sexuality) are wonderful. Simply astonishing and unreserved performances all round.
The verdict: Some scenes were overly long while some elements needed more fleshing out, the bittersweet melancholy emanating from its complex ingredients makes this a poetically profound story of the yearning for human connection.
Published: The Queanbeyan Age
Date of Publication: 09/11/2012
John Hawkes is the outstanding performance of the year!
The mind of a poet is a mysterious thing which carries untold wisdom and stories to it. In the case of The Sessions, the mind comes from the real-life story of quadriplegic Mark O'Brien.. What begins as a tale of his desire to discover his sexual identity progressively turns into a study of the human condition in responding to all kinds of relationships. With a screenplay full of dialogue which captures a poetic approach to the themes in the story, The Sessions is consistent in real language. Ben Lewin proves he has a clear mind for knowing how humans converse and just how complicated the idea of love and sexuality is. However, though he captures the complications of it all there is a sense that he never really succeeds in deciphering why it's all so complex.
The Sessions is a film where not too much happens. It is more important for the relevance of its characters and the development of their relationships than for the overall story. Unfortunately, the majority of the film's intended depth ends up left to the implications. The fact that The Sessions is very lighthearted in its approach to the subject matter allows viewers to channel the experience on their own terms rather than getting hit over the head with its dramatic material, but it also means that the film plays it a bit too safe for its own good. There is clearly a deep level of insight in the mind of Mark O'Brien, but The Sessions rarely penetrates the surface. As much as the script is genuine and the actors provide rich characterization, a lot of the material in The Sessions ends up being a rather mundane experience. The complications of human nature are reduced so that the film can favour a more simplistic love story which has its interesting points but doesn't seek out enough of its potential.
Too many of the messages in The Sessions are left to the implications. Attempting to provide viewers insight into the minds of both the quadreplegic protagonist and his sex surrogate, The Sessions hints at romantic plot points and oscillates between a focus on the two people partaking in the titular sessions. As much as this is a touching sentiment, it is a familiar one which bogs The Sessions down in a slow pace and leaves it to be little more than a series of conversations with meandering plot development. Simply put there is a lot of untold stories that lie within The Sessions which could keep things more engaging, but despite having some flair to touch upon them it settles for an approach so restrained that the viewers are left to read into things without being given much. I'm not sure what The Sessions was truly trying to say, but what I gathered was a lot of predictable messages I had already heard many times before.
But I will admit that though the visual style of The Sessions is rather basic, it is a very richly atmospheric piece. The touch of a light musical score is a key part of this because it keeps the mood of the film rich with a touching sentimentality even though it plays out as a subtle backdrop to the story itself. It helps to compliment the acting and keep the mood of the film active in the scenes between the conversations, even when things are silent and the characters are performing mundane tasks.
And regardless of how limiting the actual direction is, the actors in The Sessions are extremely brilliant.
John Hawkes' perfomance is a brilliant leading effort. Mark O'Brien is clearly a challenging character to capture as his level of wisdom boasts a lot of psychological insight while his disability limits his physical abilities. This means John Hawkes has to grasp the challenges faced by the character on the surface and way beneath. Yet after a very brief time, the idea that it is merely a performance becomes easily forgotten. John Hawkes captures Mark O'Brien with physical perfection. Every vulnerability and slight touch of a nerve is and instinctive reaction to John Hawkes' performance, as is the brilliant mind of the role he plays. John Hawkes speaks the words of Mark O'Brien with a brilliant artistic passion and a voice altered to appropriately match the identity of the man, but what's more impressive is just how well he captures the complex emotional state of the character. Mark O'Brien's desire to experience sex is way more than a physical inquisition, it is something he sees will complete him as a human being. And as the film goes on, we can see him developing the character and expressing more emotions.
Helen Hunt delivers also a beautiful effort. In her finest performance in years, Helen Hunt shares a beautiful chemistry with John Hawkes. From the first scene she enters the screen Helen Hunt conveys a feeling of confidence and wisdom, yet she gradually becomes more vulnerable as the story goes on. The greater Mark O'Brien develops an understanding of sexuality and love, the more Cheryl Cohen-Greene realizes how little she truly knows. Helen Hunt is so genuine in the progression of her character that she actually seems to go through an awakening, and it is clear in the minor changes of tone in her voice and her instinctive factual expressions just how well she does it. Even though the role requires nudity, Helen Hunt is clearly not one concerned about this as she strips away without even the slightest feeling of hesitation or any concern, and the way her confidence gradually turns into a richer state of sentimental emotion provides a strong character for the story that mirrors Mark O'Brien's journey. Helen Hunt supplies a wonderful supporting performance to The Sessions and keeps an engaging character with every moment she is on screen.
William H. Macy's small role is also a great touch since he provides satisfying moments of comic relief every time he is on screen without problem.
The Sessions maintains a lighthearted edge which makes it easy to watch and the excellent performances of John Hawkes and Helen Hunt keep it engaging, but the reliance on implied dramatic depth and familiar plot points more than actual exploration of the material leaves it as a rather numb experience.
By far, the most disturbing porn I've seen. It shines the light on many dysfunctional relationships we wonder how they happened to be.