The Sessions (2012)

Better than average

Content written by Tony Macklin. Originally published on November 13, 2012 on tonymacklin.net.

The Sessions is another movie about a man on a journey. Destination: Ejaculation Junction.

In 1990 Mark O'Brien, journalist and poet, had his article, "On Seeing a Sexual Surrogate" published in Sun Magazine.

The Sessions is based on the actual experience of Mark, a victim of polio at age six and encased most of his life in an iron lung. He sought human sexual contact and the loss of virginity at the age of 36 and wrote about it.

In the movie Mark (John Hawkes) is 38. I guess they thought adding two years will appeal more to an older audience.

The Sessions has a lot of frontal female nudity all belonging to Helen Hunt, who portrays sexual surrogate Cheryl Cohen-Greene. At age 49, she looks terrific. Did she have to go to the set early for full-body makeup?

The Sessions is frank, but it's also calculated and coy. Despite the generous footage of Helen Hunt, there is no sign that Hawkes has a penis. In one scene a sheet is draped discretely over his nether region.

Middle-aged women, after a binge of Grey, can induce their initially reluctant husbands to the poetic The Sessions by telling them there is a lot of female nudity but no male members.

One can imagine director Ben Lewin taking a look at Hawkes and saying, "I'm not going to film THAT." Poor John.

Much of the film is about the sessions between Cheryl and Mark. In one, Cheryl carries a large mirror into a motel room so that Mark can see his entire body. If only the audience had mirrors.

Mark O'Brien could stay out of the iron lung for up to three hours, though at first three seconds is enough.

One half-expects Sandra Bullock to show up. It's her kind of reality-without-authenticity movie.

But she would have balked. One can imagine Bullock saying, "I have to show WHAT?"

As she ran away, she'd say, "I already have my hard little man - Oscar."

Helen Hunt also has her Oscar for her wonderful performance in As Good as It Gets (1997). But she's still very much a talented trouper and committed actress.

Hunt's sex surrogate Cheryl is direct and human. Hunt gives a - insert your pun here - performance.

John Hawkes gives a crackerjack performance as Mark. He makes his agony and ecstasy palpable and uncomfortable.

William H. Macy portrays Roman Catholic priest Father Bernard as more friend than priest. At times, he's like an arrested adolescent who wants to hear details. But he's a good comic foil.

Adam Arkin has a thankless role as Cheryl's lacklustre husband. Moon Bloodworth, Annika Marks, and Robin Weigert portray bright women in Mark's life. They all keep their clothes on.

Writer/director Ben Lewin doesn't have the "balls" that his leading lady does. There's some contrivance in his screenplay. Susan Fernbach is credited with Mark as co-writing a crucial poem, but it's in the film before Mark ever meets her.

Lewin does create a tone that is agreeable. He leavens potentially absurd situations with witty dialogue and human interplay.

Popular sex therapist Dr. Ruth once said that sexual surrogates are "illegal."

The Sessions makes them mainstream.


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