It’s that time of year when the studios begin to march out the films that they have in their system that they think just might have a shot come awards season. Out yesterday from our friends at Fox Searchlight Pictures at the Varsity Cinemas here in downtown Toronto, and rolling out slowly all across the country in the coming weeks is a film best on the true story of a remarkable man who lived the bulk of his life inside his own mind and sets out to feel the beauty of a woman’s touch before he passes away. It’s time for “The Sessions”
Starring John Hawkes, Helen Hunt and William H Macy
Written & Directed by Ben Lewin
The Sessions tells the story of writer Mark O’Brien (Hawkes) confined to an iron lung who is determined at age 38 to lose his virginity. With the help of his therapists, a professional sex surrogate (Hunt) and the guidance of his priest (Macy), he sets out to make his dream a reality.
Not a writer/director that has ever lit the world on fire with his feature and TV work; writer/director Ben Lewin has seemingly struck gold with this story that hits all the emotional highs and lows in a film that is very obviously aiming for Oscar gold. It’s competently told with some excellent performances as Lewin leaves very little superfluous exposition on the table and gets right down the nuts and bolts of it all. This approach while effective actually makes what is a very sweet story feel a little cold at times as it does feel like we are getting too much of some characters and yet not enough of some others simply towards the vein of manipulating the audience and getting the desired results and while there is nothing wrong with that and the film’s matter of fact tone towards the subject matter it makes for some cold moments that thankfully get a shot in the arm from two very good and surprisingly understated performances.
In what will be the best performance of the year by a man’s head; John Hawkes as Mark O’Brien a thoughtful and sensitive man that was stricken with polio managed to keep any histrionics at bay and played him just as he should, an intelligent self-aware individual with a charming and self deprecating humor to him that attracted a fair amount of people to him, as in reality that is all he had to work with. As our sex therapist Cheryl, Helen Hunt quite literally strips herself bare and rather than attempt to play it big and bold, she went for it in a quite as a matter of fact kind of way as the chemistry between her and Hawkes was simply stellar as they took us on emotional roller coaster journey, the one that having sex for the first time has and can send many people on and they both captured the sweet nature of that relationship to a tee. As Father Brendan, William H Macy was criminally underused providing a great deal of comic relief as the catholic priest that Hawkes’ character brought his sexual problems too, and while that relationship could have used a bit more ‘fleshing’ out if you’ll pardon the pun, Macy played the part with a sensitive aplomb much like you would imagine any modern spiritual leader would deal with the situation.
“The Sessions” won’t be a big, bold and dramatic movie that many people expect, but it is an understated and sweet story that despite its flaws is worth watching. It will be tough for people not to make a big deal about this film due to its subject matter but much like sex; “The Sessions” should ultimately be what it is life affirming, fun and not nearly as complicated as we all make it out to be.
3 out of 5 stars.
“The Sessions” is playing exclusively here in Toronto at the Varsity Cinemas in downtown Toronto; click here for show times.
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