Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
In Hollywood, as is universally the case, sex sells. In moviedom, there's no shortage of unrealistic romantic fantasies, but frank examinations of people's sex lives is celluloid taboo. As for the sex lives of people with physical disabilities, that's double taboo.
So hats off to Australian writer/director Ben Lewin for the groundbreaking, and completely entertaining The Sessions. Outlining the true story of Mark O'Brien, who was struck with polio as a child, The Sessions starts with the 38 year old O'Brien, by this stage immobile from the neck down, making an all out effort to pop his cherry. To do this, he enlists the aid of a sex therapist.
If you don't know the difference between a sex therapist and a prostitute, then The Sessions is here to educate and inform. We get a pretty detailed demonstration as Mark and Cheryl explore the possibilities at their disposal. It's a series of encounters filled with great humanity, candour and humour.
It's hard to imagine anyone better than John Hawkes to play O'Brien Although an incredibly menacing presence in Winter's Bone and Martha Marcy May Marlene, the short, scrawny actor parlays his voice into something every bit as thin and frail as his body. With a deft line in self-deprecation, and conveying much with little else but a glimmer in his eyes, Hawkes' O'Brien impresses as someone you'd really like to be around, rather than a figure of pity. He's surely a shoe-in for a Best Actor Oscar nominee. As the sex therapist, Helen Hunt is to be applauded for her bravery in playing such a physically explicit role.
As a film about a disabled man's sexual identity, it's curious that the camera is trained a lot more on the woman's body than on the man's. Perhaps this is because we are seeing the story largely from O'Brien's perspective, and his attention is more focused on his therapist than on himself.
Although much of the The Sessions concerns the physical limitations of O'Brien and the physicality of sex, ultimately it is the need for love that affects the characters most profoundly, and in turn gives the film such a moving and satisfying ending.
The Sessions is the unlikeliest of crowd-pleasers, transcending a confronting topic and delivering an experience full of laughs and possibly a few tears.
Well reviewed, Richard ! Wasn't the ensemble work from all of the cast very strong? Such a humble film too. No emotional manipulation of the audience as is the wont of some "Affliction Flicks"...just the right amount of tearing up but mostly chuckles as a response. One reviewer "didn't believe" William H. Macey as the priest but I thought he subtly expressed a conflicted man Of God. Annie