Film Review: “The Sessions” Is A Raw, Wry Look At Disability And Love
Based off the autobiographical writings of a Northern California-based journalist and poet, “The Sessions” tells the story of Mark O’Brien, who lives his life with humor and vigor despite being essentially paralyzed from the head down.
O’Brien, played with aplomb by John Hawkes (Academy Award-winning actor of Winter’s Bone) seeks the help of a sex surrogate to have his first sexual experience. Cheryl Cohen Greene (Helen Hunt) steps in to fill the role, forging a bond with O’Brien while helping him explore his sexuality as well as his feelings about relationships, god and more.
Throughout the film, O’Brien also receives the advice of his priest and confidant, Father Brendan (William H. Macy), who offers pragmatic wisdom while humorously supporting O’Brien’s decision to pay for sex out of wedlock (albeit in a therapeutic context).
While the topics addressed in “The Sessions” are ambitious – ranging from religion to disability – the film manages to illustrate one man’s struggle with finding love and compassion in a way that is both universal and singular, but never clichéd or maudlin.
Hawkes and Hunt can be credited with delivering performances that are not only emotionally impressive, but also physically. As O’Brien spends time outside of his iron lung lying on a gurney, the demands of Hawkes’ role are evident. Hunt, too, brings realism to the tricky logistics of the film’s sexual moments.
“The Sessions” could easily become mired in questions of life and love. But an intelligent script and well-shaped characters ensure that O’Brien’s saga is one of wry self-degradation and light-hearted honesty.
"The Sessions" opens in limited release Oct. 19, and opens in more theaters Oct. 26. See showtimes here.