Film Review: The Sessions
by Matthew Durham
If John Hawkes somehow didn’t prove he was a great actor with Winter’s Bone and Martha Marcy May Marlene, then any disbelief can be certainly swayed with The Sessions. The Sessions is the story of Mark O’ Brien a 38-year-old poet who has lost all of his motor functions to polio and is cursed to live his life strapped to a gurney.
When Mark isn’t strapped to a gurney he is tied to an iron lung at his home where he works on his poetry and reads. Mark requires an assistant and he spends the beginning of the film firing one assistant and falling in love with the next, however once she denies his love he resorts to looking up a sex surrogate who is played wonderfully by Helen Hunt.
Being a 38-year-old virgin, Mark ejaculates pre-maturely at the slight touch of a woman, but he feels sex is something he needs and he discusses his impure thoughts and issues with his Catholic priest (played by William H. Macy.)
It’s hard to explain how this film fails or succeeds without spoiling it, but the storyline follows a classic formula of character-thinks-he-knows-what-he-wants to character-realizes-what-he-really-wants. Helen Hunt plays the sex surrogate who tends to his needs with a limit of six sessions, the first few don’t exactly go so well.
The Sessions is a movie about a handicapped man’s sexual need and the film displays a lot of the complexities of middle-aged sexual relationships. Where the film doesn’t succeed is its lack of fulfillment of characterizations.
The film is a short 95 minutes and the characters are interesting, Macy’s comic relief works well and Hawkes’s Mark is a revolution in his career. Helen Hunt plays her character well as a woman who takes her job seriously, but is fighting demons of her own. We vaguely learn things about our two leads ,Hunt and Hawkes. Some things about Mark’s childhood before he had polio (scenes here work very well.) We don’t learn to much about Cheryl (Hunt) but Hunt’s performance allows us to feel empathetic.
I really wish they developed Cheryl more, and Mark as well. I won’t blame the short run-time. It seems the movie loses its self in the middle and gets repetitive making the final act feel jarring and unsatisfying. The ending isn’t predictable by any means, still its unpredictability doesn’t make it good.
Every other supporting character feels like a real person, with the exception of a few. In the end we conclude with Mark narrating about characters we never cared about or even got to know. Overall, this film spends most of the focus of its short runtime on the relationship between Mark and Cheryl which demonstrates relentless chemistry, but not enough characterization to make us really ever care.
The Sessions works as an indie drama, but not much else. The film is average at best and wouldn’t have had nearly as much success without Hawkes and Hunt’s fantastic performances.
Final Score: 3/5