AFF 2012 Review: THE SESSIONS

By Mark Saldana 

Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)

The average adult human takes so much for granted, including sex.  During the late 1980s, poet and journalist Mark O’Brien, at the age of 38, had never experienced sex.  Afflicted with polio at a young age, O’Brien’s body was paralyzed most of his life, O’Brien had to spend his life either on a hospital gurney or in an iron lung which helped him breathe properly.  This movie, based on an article he wrote about his experiences, tells how Mark O’Brien lost his virginity with the help of a sex surrogate and how it led to a more fulfilling life for the severely disabled man.

Portrayed by the uber-talented (John Hawkes), Mark O’Brien is offered an article assignment discussing sex and the disabled.  Because he has no experience whatsoever, he consults with a disabled lady, and a therapist.  However, because he longs for a romantic relationship in his life and the ability to physically express this love, despite his fears, O’Brien agrees to work with sex surrogate Cheryl Cohen Greene (Helen Hunt) to make this giant leap forward in his life.

Written and directed by polio survivor Ben Lewin, The Sessions beautifully recreates the true story about an ill man wanting to feel more whole.  He feels a huge piece of his life missing and wishes to fill this void.  Lewin’s script is absolutely wonderful and his film tastefully well done.  I appreciated how Lewin presents how the Greene character tries to simplify sex for O’Brien to calm his fears and take him through the necessary exercises to accomplish his goals, but I also admired how realistically he portrays the complications and emotions which come with sex.  I must warn that the film does contain sexual content and nudity as it doesn’t pull too many punches and goes for realism.  This may make more conservative audiences uncomfortable.

I must strongly applaud Hawkes and Hunt for their courageously realistic performances. The movie also features spectacular work by William H. Macy, Moon Bloodgood, and Annika Marks.  If one can handle candid sexual material, I must highly recommend this truly remarkable story of a hopeless romantic held back by both physical and psychological disabilities and how he overcomes those obstacles.

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