Saturday, 13 October 2012

LFF: The Sessions Review

Director/Writer: Ben Lewin

Starring: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy, Moon Bloodgood, Annika Marks, Adam Arkin

Plot: Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes) suffered from polio at age 6 and since then has had to depend on an iron lung and a string of assistants/nurses. He maintains a strong and witty personality but feels incomplete not only due to his disease but also from missing out on the experience of sex. After getting a call to conduct interviews for the local media about sex and the disabled, Mark becomes motivated to finally lose his virginity. He asks for the advice of his local priest (William H. Macy) who after some thought decides he should “go for it”. Enter Cheryl (Helen Hunt) whose job as a sex surrogate will help Mark become a man and give him more passion for life, love and poetry.

The trailer released for The Sessions has the tone of the film down all wrong – promoting it as a zany rom-com does injustice to the heart and wit of Ben Lewin’s new film. In part, the film uses a lot of humour that counteracts some heavier aspects of the story, as well as highlighting the spirit of the protagonist, Mark, but on the whole The Sessions is a dramatic examination of love and hardships.

With a film dealing with such dramatic weight as the subject of disability and virginity, there is a chance that the tone could develop into something heavy and saddening. Nevertheless, Ben Lewin’s chipper script, inspired by the writing of a wonderfully upbeat O’Brien, aims to entertain and humour the audience. The topic of virginity has been analysed in hundreds of films – whether it’s  piercing glances into the psyches of the “first timers”, comedic capers about “popping the cherry” or weird and wacky studies into sex – but never as profound and honest as The Sessions. The actual sex scenes are played out with such humility that it never comes across as uncomfortable or superfluously stylised.

The unassuming nature of the film can be attributed partly to Lewin’s script and direction but mainly towards Hawkes, Hunt and Macy. What becomes mostly a film focused on the interaction of two people, Hawkes and Hunt expertly intrigue and amuse their audience. The former, especially, is charming and charismatic all within the confines of a semi-paralysed body. Hawkes continually chooses winning roles in marvellous films and it’s great to see him finally lead a picture. He clearly devotes himself to his art and if the Academy is already looking at Actor nominations, it would be a huge surprise if they have not already considered him. Hunt, additionally, looks to garner unaccountable acclaim for her fearless yet gentle performance.

The Sessions is a brave, brazen and beatific film that draws together moral and social issues such as sex, religion and disability with ease and refinement. Providing a trio of terrific performances and a script full of heart and wonderfully dry humour, it’s an impressive film, never demanding or conceited but, instead, inviting and inspiring.

By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on LiveForFilms

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