Mark O'Brien just wants to have sex. He's willing to pay someone to help him lose his virginity. His quest will likely earn the movie The Sessions several Oscar nominations, as it is one of the best movies of the year.
John Hawkes stars as the real-life poet and journalist, who after suffering from polio as a child was paralyzed from the neck down and forced to live much of his life in an iron lung. After taking on an assignment to research how disabled people have sex, he decides that it's about time for him to get a little action. After getting permission from his friend and priest (played by William H. Macy), he seeks help from professional sex surrogate Cheryl Cohen-Greene (Helen Hunt). An unlikely quasi-romance ensues.
Hawkes delivers a spectacular performance as the gurney-bound man, who was also the subject of the 1996 short documentary Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien, which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short. His performance is both emotional and funny, and, coupled with his physical transformation, is all but assured an Oscar nod.
Helen Hunt matches him step for step, turning in her first notable performance since What Women Want and her best since her Oscar-winning role in 1997's As Good As It Gets.
Ultimately, it's writer/director Ben Lewin who deserves the credit. The screenplay is excellent, offering a fine balance of drama and humor that both resonates on an emotional level and simply entertains. The story brims with energy, which is an accomplishment given how stationary the main character is. The exchanges between Hawks and Macy are especially funny.
The film's only fault is its abrupt ending. The movie is a snapshot of Mark O'Brien's life, and yet Lewin decides to end the film many years later. It's clear the director wanted to provide closure, and in many ways the final scene works better than any other could have, but it doesn't entirely fit with the rest of the movie. It's a minor fault.
The Sessions not only features some of the best performances of the year, but it is also one of the best movies of the year. And to think it's all about a guy who just wants to get laid.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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