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"The Sessions" (*** 1/2 - 98 minutes)



Thursday October 4, 2012

I suspect that many movie goers will pass on seeing "The Sessions" when they first discover that it deals with a polio stricken individual paralyzed from the neck down, who, at the age of 38, is finally trying to discover and realize his sexuality.  If these folks decide to skip this wonderful independent film for the latest Hollywood mindless action pabulum, such patrons will miss one of most satisfying films of the year.  Australian writer/director Ben Lewin (who suffered with polio as a child) based his narrative on essayist and poet Mark O'Brien's magazine article, "On Seeing a Sex Surrogate," and has expertly constructed an emotional, hopeful, and extremely well-acted story that is sure to be recognized come Oscar-time.  

The film opens with actual news footage of Mark graduating from The University of California at Berkeley and then shifts years later to his life which requires him to breathe for the majority of his time on a respirator and iron lung.  When it is suggested that he seek out a sexual surrogate to end his years of virginity, Mark seeks guidance and acceptance from Father Brendan (the always capable William H. Macy) who appears in snippets throughout as Mark relates, in detail, his session experiences. 

However, complications arise as the established six session limit is about to be reached as both surrogate and subject begin realizing that their encounters were becoming a bit more serious than either intended - that it was becoming increasingly difficult to check their emotions at the door. 

Helen Hunt (who won an Academy Award in 1997's "As Good As It Gets" but whose latter roles have been largely forgettable) wonderfully portrays the surrogate, Cheryl Cohen Greene.  However, it is John Hawkes (nominated in 2010 for "Winter's Bone") whose performance is crucial to the success of the movie.  Portraying the stricken Mark entirely from a supine position is no easy task (I was reminded of Ryan Reynolds remarkable performance in a coffin in 2010's "Buried").  However, Hawkes magnificently pulls it off without a false note conveying equal parts humor and pathos.

The supporting cast, including Moon Bloodgood as one of Mark's attendants, is particularly noteworthy.  And a special mention must be given to the beautifully simplistic unobtrusive score by two-time Academy Award nominee Marco Beltrami ("3:10 to Yuma" and "The Hurt Locker").

The inspirational sexual coming-of-age film, which premiered at Sundance last January and deservedly received both the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award and the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Ensemble Acting, will have a limited platform release beginning October 19.  A word of advice:  this is a four hankie movie - so come prepared!

Cheryl (Helen Hunt) and Mark (John Hawkes) during a
session






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