‘The Sessions’ Movie Review – No Dressing It Up
You can thank all those teen comedies for the quest-to-lose-your-virginity movies. Luckily, there are plenty of films trying to “break the mold.” This is exactly what Ben Lewin’s The Sessions does in the true story of a polio survivor’s quest to lose his virginity. It’s an oddly heartwarming story, catapulted by a truly unique character (and subsequent performance by John Hawkes) in a precarious position.
Relying on an iron lung to breathe and a full-time caretaker to wheel him around in a gurney, Mark O’Brien (Hawkes) isn’t exactly fighting off the women. Although his life doesn’t rely on female interaction, he becomes very curious what sex is like. After confronting his priest (William H. Macy) about his situation, he gets in touch with a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) to, how shall I say this, meet his needs.
They are limited to six sessions, though, as she explains why her job is different than prostitution. What this surrogate doesn’t realize, though, is just how charming a sub-100-pound polio poet could be, leading her (and plenty of others) to make some conscious life choices.
Any comparison to the movies I poked fun at towards the beginning are ridiculous, because The Sessions presents sex in a much more natural way. It doesn’t minimize it, nor does it dress it up and put it on display. No, sex is a part of human nature, and it’s a core reason why the movie feels so honest.
Of course, Hawkes is one the easiest ones to compliment. It’s a role that is practically begging for an Academy Award. Thematically, it’s a film that jives well, too, because it’s got great dialogue, a heartwarming core, and flawless performances. Hawkes is front-and-center, but he owes some of the compliments to the direction and script (also done by Lewin).
Helen Hunt deserves recognition, too. She comes off as extremely confident and natural. Unlike Hawkes, she didn’t have such a showy performance (there’s a nudity joke in here somewhere) in terms of acting. However, the refined performance set up the emotional aspect of the film in a less gimmicky way. It’s a lot easier to get sympathy from a character we’d all hate to be, such as having the inability to even stand up, but it’s a whole other ballgame to think about the characters we can better relate to. This makes it a story that hits from both sides.
Lewin smartly eases on the gas pedal, too. He finds the balance between funny and serious, lighthearted and sentimental. Again, the script can be thanked for some of the funnier parts. The timing has the ability to make the tears ambiguous because it’s hard to tell what’s from joy or what’s from sorrow.
I’m running out of synonyms for both “genuine” and “good,” so I’ll wrap this up. Ben Lewin’s The Sessions is a comedy about a man losing his virginity. But…it’s not a typical throwaway. It’s actually the contrary, because the film succeeds on pretty much every level, including direction, script, tone, and performances. With plenty to like, this is a sure winner for almost anyone willing to watch a movie devoted to sex.
The Sessions actually opened a couple weeks ago. However, it’s had a wider release scheduled for this weekend and beyond. Check your local theater to find showtimes.
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