The Sessions (2012), directed by Ben Lewin
Delightful films are the worst to review because you can only use the word “delightful” so many times before the review becomes nauseatingly repetitive and glowing.
So I’ll just get it out of the way: The Sessions is delightful.
It’s the story of a man who can’t move most of his body thanks to contracting polio at a young age, and his desire to become a sexual human being. To achieve this he seeks the services of a sex surrogate, a professional who helps disabled people to experience sexual release, including intercourse.
It’s not everyday you see a film about that, am I right?
Aside from being the d-word, one of the most notable aspects of The Sessions is its handling of the topic of sex, and particularly sex and the disabled. The film recognizes a person’s sexuality as a an essential element of their identity, which is depressingly pretty refreshing for our culture.
That the movie never questions how important O’Brien’s sexual awakening is to him is wonderful, as is the portrayal of the support he receives in his endeavour from his friends, health care workers and even his priest (William H. Macy).
Rather than get bogged down in “issues” or some sort of discussion of society’s view of sexuality, we are instead presented with a funny, honest and touching movie about one person just trying to feel the connection that sex allows. This allows the movie to be about the person, which is ultimately more powerful than being about the “issue.”
Plus by not making it the focus the film doesn’t even justify the “moral dilemma” some might have with the content.
The quality of the performances is what most audiences will walk away thinking about. I think John Hawkes is a marvelous character actor and I’m always thrilled to see him on the big screen. He has a real talent to play a wide variety of characters and do so with a certain honesty and attention to his craft that is always compelling to watch.
Anyway, he’s great in this one and manages to make Mark a relatable, lovable, human character who comes across as being more than his disability. The movie suggests the man himself, in real life, had a similar effect on people.
Helen Hunt is not often someone I think about as a great actor, despite the Oscar. I don’t know why, she just rarely pops up in interesting projects. Maybe it’s still the whole Mad About You thing. But she’s great in this, hits all the right notes for what is an interesting character in a unique situation. Her performance highlights the complexity and power of what her character does for O’Brien.
Ultimately The Sessions finds its power and its point in being so approachable and enjoyable. It may make the film less Oscar-bait powerful. John Williams doesn’t score it, I don’t remember anyone crying in the rain or yelling a powerful speech. It’s simply funny and touching, which is the perfect tone.
It’s delightful. Sorry.
The Sessions is in cinemas now.