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The Sessions

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I’ve always found it more interesting to watch a bio-pic about somebody I know nothing about. This movie isn’t about writer/poet Mark O’Brien’s entire life. It just deals with the time when he’s 38 and yearning to lose his virginity (you’ll never once think of 40-Year-Old Virgin). That’s because this isn’t a comedy, although it does have many moments of levity.

O’Brien graduated from college, and has a successful job as a writer. He’s not as successful when it comes to caretakers or his love life. He had polio as a child and now lives in an iron lung. As he tells his priest (William H. Macy), “my ‘use by’ date might be coming up.”

When he’s asked about doing a story about how disabled people have sex, he decides he’ll himself hire a “sex surrogate.”

Don’t worry, the film answers any questions you may have about this.

The studio spent $6 million to buy this after it screened at Sundance (it was called The Surrogate). It’s easy to see why.

It is able to avoid the pity, the righteous lectures, the cliché jokes you might get from a poorly written film. Credit for this goes to writer/director Ben Lewin (Paperback Romance), who himself is handicapped.

Lewin got lucky in the fact that one of the best character-actors around – John Hawkes – agreed to star. He will be getting a well-deserved Oscar nomination for this role. The man acts with just his face and voice!

I’m guessing Macy will receive an Oscar nod, although he shouldn’t. He’s good in the role, it’s just not worthy of a nomination.

I’d love to see Lewin get one, as well as Helen Hunt, who annoyed me the last few times I saw her on the big screen (Soul Surfer, As Good as it Gets). In this, she simply acts her ass off (uh, no pun intended).

There are scenes where she’s so kind to him during the sessions, explaining everything, and at the same time realizing she needs to be sexy for him to enjoy it. There are also moments she has to have subtle facial expressions and she knocks it out of the park.

I enjoy the religious conversations we hear O’Brien engage in. In poorly written scenes (I’m thinking of Clint Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby), we merely see a man questioning a priest about their bad luck. In this, he’s got about as good an attitude as a person could have.

And as confident as he is joking with friends and strangers, we see how naïve he is when it comes to women. It makes perfect sense, considering the fact that he’s never dated. He meets women that either resent the job they have to do taking care of him; or they enjoy it because he’s such an intelligent and humorous man, that he mistakes that for love. It makes those first few sex scenes in the sessions fascinating. He is aroused, but also frightened. When he is telling the female caretaker as she wheels him away, “It was my first time and…it was all over so soon.” She, after answering his questions about her first time, wryly replies “Yeah, tell me about it.”

None of the nudity seems gratuitous, and it all feels so authentic.

The supporting cast is decent. There’s Adam Arkin and Moon Bloodgood in smaller parts. Yet I’m guessing no matter who was in this cast, it’s going to be a tough going at the box office. Unless they put Adam Sandler in the iron lung, or had a HalleBerry as the sex surrogate – it’s a tough sell. That’s a shame, because it’s one of the best movies of the year.

I remember being shocked as a kid watching films like Coming Home and Inside Moves, with sex scenes involving the disabled. This is a movie that may shock you a little, but more often it just warms your heart. Even little scenes, where we see a waiter at a coffee shop being asked to put the straw in O’Brien’s mouth. He doesn’t bat an eye at doing it, but says as he walks away “Just wait a minute, because it’s really hot.”

If only people could be as nice to each other as they were in this movie.

It might be a little low-key for some, but I think that’s just the right tempo for this uplifting movie that will make you laugh, make you cry. Even if you have a hard time buying a scenario or two…you’ll feel the emotions that overcame you were well earned.

It gets 4 stars out of 5.

1 Comment

  • joshboardfox5

    I just watched Helen Hunt on Letterman, as she was promoting the release of The Sessions on DVD. I hadn't realized she won an Oscar before (As Good as it Gets). What an overrated movie that was. Anywhooo…the interview was hysterical, as Letterman was obsessed with asking questions about her being nude, how many crew members where on the set ("Not many," she said, adding "It was a small set, and in the spirit of the movie and what it was about, they were all very professional…unlike you!").
    She mentioned that they offered her a "privacy patch" which she at first declined, but once she got naked on the set she whispered "Yeah, why don't you get me that privacy patch." And how did Letterman respond to what the privacy patch was? He asked sarcastically "Do you wear that for sea sickness?"

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