Tuesday, December 4, 2012
The Sessions (Limited Release Date: 11-16-2012)
Writer/Director Ben Lewins' first feature film in nearly 20 years tells the story of poet Mark O'Brien (John Hawkes). A 36-year-old often confined to an iron lung, the O'Brien of the film describes his state of pseudo-paralysis by simply claiming, 'my muscles don't work too good.' This self-affacing wit is one of many reasons why people are drawn to the writer, though his bodily ailments have denied him admittance to mankind's most intimate physical expression. After receiving a go-ahead of sorts from his priest-and-confidant Father Brendan (William H. Macy), Mark contacts Cheryl Cohen Greene (Helen Hunt), a sexual surrogate tasked with both deflowering and teaching the incapacitated charmer the ways of love-making.
There's an easy-going appeal to nearly every moment of The Sessions, an accomplishment that owes thanks to many contributors. Lewin, brushing off the cobwebs to return to the director's chair, displays a breezy grace in how he chooses to unfurl his film. Without his acute awareness of when to go for the gut, and when to pull back a bit, this could have easily been a Hallmark Channel original. The project's class is bolstered by Geoffrey Simpson's subtle and lovely work behind the camera, as well as Marco Beltrami's marvelous score, minute in size, but resplendent in emotional impact. Then there are Hawkes and Hunt, both so brave, inviting, and human at every turn, each registering the numerous emotions that complicated real-life situations often present, and directors often lack the confidence to capture and display. The Sessions is not a perfect movie: it's use of religion feels forced, and there are occasional moments when the sensationalism of the story begins to overwhelm. But The Sessions is still a treasured rarity: a American movie willing and able to delve into human sexuality with courage, humor, and empathy. It may be a bit raw for some, and perhaps a touch slow-moving for others. I think it's just about perfect.