Helen Hunt and John Hawkes star in this delicately-handled story of Mark O’Brien (Hawkes) in an iron lung, who – at the age of 38 - decides that he wishes to lose his virginity. Help comes in the form of a sex surrogate (played by Hunt), who starts a series of eight sessions, designed to lead to sex and to Mark losing his virginity. The Sessions is based on a true story and as such, the narrative takes turns that you would not necessarily expect from a scripted drama. The movie is all the richer for it and is all the richer for the stellar performances put in by Hunt, Hawkes and co-star William H Macy.
Many have wondered why The Sessions didn’t feature more in this year’s Oscars list. As it is, Helen Hunt has been nominated for the Actress in a Supporting Role award – a testament to the quality of the acting, for a movie with such unusual subject matter. Our reviewer was impressed by the handling of The Sessions, by breakthrough director Ben Lewin: “Lewin refuses to shy away from any aspect of this story, confronting everything in honest, sometimes uncomfortable ways that are never remotely sentimentalized. It would be easy to drift into syrupy schmaltz with this kind of material, but the script maintains a bracingly sharp wit, and the actors cleverly underplay every scene.” The remarkable thing it seems, is that viewers can identify with all of the characters onscreen, despite the unusual situation in which they are found.
The Sessions is released in UK cinemas today (January 18, 2012).
Based on the autobiographical writings of journalist and poet Mark O'Brien, The Sessions - starring Helen Hunt and John Hawkes - hits cinemas in the UK today (January 18, 2013) - on the back of universal acclaim from critics. Boasting a score of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, Ben Lewin's drama is ahead of Django Unchained, Lincoln, Life of Pi, Les Miserables and pretty much every other Oscar contender bar Argo (96%) - so why didn't it feature prominently when the nominations were announced this month?
Its lead star Helen Hunt is up for Best Supporting Actress, though there was nothing for the movie itself, or for Hawkes. It was a frontrunner for Best Picture following the film festivals in 2012, though appeared to fall off the radar. Perhaps it's the subject matter that had the Academy looking elsewhere? The Sessions - originally titled The Surrogate - tells the story of a man confined to an iron lung who is determined to lose his virginity, despite being 38 years-old. With the help of his therapists and the guidance of his priest, he sets out to make his dream a reality. Writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert said, "This film rebukes and corrects countless brainless and cheap sex scenes in other movies. It's a reminder that we must be kind to one another." Alex Zane of The Sun said, "It's a brave performance from Hunt, who spends much of the film entirely naked. Both her and Hawkes are brilliant in a movie that is a massively uplifting experience," while CNN.com said, "A very different kind of love story, breaking taboos lightly, with sensitivity and humor." Our very own Rich Cline gave the movie 4 stars, writing, "The most remarkable thing about the film is that we can identify with everyone on screen."
The lack of Oscar recognition will be a bitter blow to Ben Lewin and his team, made no less palatable by the fact Helen Hunt has almost no chance of winning Best Supporting Actress. Anne Hathaway - at odds of 1/25 - will turn up and take the gong come February 26, 2013.
By taking a sensitive, honest approach to this true story, breakthrough filmmaker Lewin both avoids sentimentality and keeps the focus on the inner lives of the central characters. He also somehow manages to make a movie about a sexual surrogate strongly involving: we are never even remotely tempted to giggle.
This is the story of Mark O'Brien (Hawkes), a journalist from Berkeley, California, who lives in an iron lung that he can only leave for a few hours a week. Paralysed from the neck down by polio as a young boy, Mark decides at age 38 that he wants to lose his virginity. Consumed by Catholic guilt about this desire, he consults his local priest (Macy), who says he deserves a pass on this one. So his no-nonsense assistant Vera (Bloodgood) finds him a surrogate in Cheryl (Hunt), who starts eight sessions that are designed to lead to sex. And as she gets to know Mark, Cheryl begins to let her guard down.
Lewin refuses to shy away from any aspect of this story, confronting everything in honest, sometimes uncomfortable ways that are never remotely sentimentalised. It would be easy to drift into syruppy schmaltz with this kind of material, but the script maintains a bracingly sharp wit, and the actors cleverly underplay every scene. This adds to the realism and helps us understand all of the people on-screen. Hawkes and Hunt are both transparent and revelatory, each in a difficult role that could have been much showier, but is stronger due to their restraint. Macy and Bloodgood are terrific as the sardonic supporting characters. And Marks (as another assistant) and Arkin (as Cheryl's understanding husband) add terrific layers to their much smaller roles.
Continue reading: The Sessions Review
The Sessions, an indie-drama about a paralyzed poet who hires a sex surrogate to lose his virginity, is creating quite a buzz as awards' season approaches. The movie, directed by Ben Lewin and starring Helen Hunt and John Hawkes, hits theaters in the U.S. this weekend and has received rave reviews.
The movie holds a quite stunning 97% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 53 reviews from some of the most revered critics in the business. Writing in the New York Times, Stephen Holden said, "The Sessions is a pleasant shock: a touching, profoundly sex-positive film that equates sex with intimacy, tenderness and emotional connection instead of performance, competition and conquest." Betsy Sharkey of the Los Angeles Times praised the movie for tackling its subject matter, writing, "In a country that embraces cinematic violence with such ease but blushingly prefers to keep sex in the shadows or under the sheets, the grown-up approach of "The Sessions" is rare." Bookmakers don't fancy the movie's chances to land Best Picture at the Oscar, though we see the current 14/1 odds as a real steal. As with 'The Artist' last year, word-of-mouth can really enhance a movie's chances heading into the Golden Globes and the Oscars, and the Academy has favoured indie movies in recent years. If you're of the opinion that 'Best Picture' is a bridge-too-far for 'The Sessions', you could do worse than backing Hawkes for Best Actor. He's currently the second favourite (behind Daniel Day Lewis) for the gong, and recently discussed his chances with Just Press Play.com , saying, ".who knows what will happen? The buzz, the talk, in a way makes me nervous to think about it, the Oscar evening, and the events leading up to it. But, it brings more people to the movie and that makes me really happy."
So, why not eschew the latest Paranormal Activity movie this weekend and go see The Sessions?
Mark O'Brien suffers from a particularly virile form of polio; a debilitating disease that has caused him to become paralysed and rely on the help of an iron lung in order to breathe. At aged 38, he becomes resolute in a quest to lose his virginity and his understanding therapist suggests a sex surrogate to help him achieve this. A God-fearing man, Mark goes to his priest for guidance, unsure of how the decision could affect him in the eyes of his God. Surprisingly, the Father Brendan agrees that it could be a positive thing in Mark's life and urges him to go for it. He meets up with Cheryl with the help of his therapist and is happy to discover that she is beautiful and kind as well as highly professional and helpful in aiding Mark to achieve what he doubtlessly wouldn't have been able to achieve without her.
'The Sessions' is based on a remarkable true story of an American journalist and poet whose real story has been chronicled in his 1990 The Sun article 'On Seeing a Sex Surrogate' and his book 'How I Became a Human Being: A Disabled Man's Quest for Independence' as well as an Oscar winning short documentary called 'Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien' . This movie has been directed and written by Ben Lewin ('Lucky Break', 'The Favour, the Watch and the Very Big Fish', 'Georgia') and is set to be released on January 18th 2013 in the UK.