The sessions stars John Hawkes and Helen Hunt (who is up for best supporting actress in the ’12 Oscar race), and is quite a touching film about acceptance.  Acceptance from others, acceptance from God and most important of all acceptance of oneself.

John Hawkes stars as real life poet Mark O’Brien who lived most of his life in an Iron Lung due to early onset of Polio.  After being hired to write a journal piece on sex and the disabled, Mark is intrigued enough to  set off on his own journey of sexual awakening by hiring a sex therapist/surrogate, Cheryl  Cohen-Greene (played by Hunt).  Mark is accompanied  on his sojourn by his priest, confident and true friend Father Brendan, played by William H. Macy.

This film is so wonderful in it’s simplicity.  The script delicately covers all bases without ever becoming heavy handed or preachy.  In many other films I would have wanted a more narrow focus on either the religious implications or the therapist – patient relationship or the therapist and her own life and how it was being effected.  Yet the script and direction allow all of these issues to be covered so as not to leave any stone unturned but also let the weight of the story, that of man who wants to be loved (by others and himself), and that story be carried by the depth of the actors / actresses performances.

William H. Macy’s priest is the kind of priest that I think I would even get along with.  He understands the plight of the man he calls friend.  His character shows a hesitation as he gives his “permission/blessing” for Mark to seek out his sexual experiences, but calls upon the God of love and understanding that we always hear about, saying “In my heart, I think he’ll give you a pass on this one”.  He knows that the God he believes made Mark and allowed tragedy to befall him understands the desire and want of love that Mark seeks.  Father Brendan also is given to moments of silent pondering and humorous jealousy as he hears of Marks sexual adventures that he himself is denied.  None of this is in words, simply in Macy’s face.

While we are on the topic of emoting via the face and nothing else, I must turn to Hawkes wonderful portrayal of Mark O’Brien.  The entire movie Hawkes is lying prone on either a gurney or a bed.  His head is almost always turned slightly to the right; and that is it.  He give Mark the shallow wheezing voice of one whose chest is always fighting the weight of gravity and rasp of a man who needs an iron lung to live.  But it is in Hawkes sincerity that we love Mark and his journey.  We rally behind him with his humor and the levity in which Hawkes delivers it.  In his performance we see how pain is transformed into beauty and love of life with every thought and sensation he discovers.

And the sensations he discovers under the deft, silky touch of Helen Hunt.  Some may find her nomination undeserved, as they might see the Oscar nod given primarily due to her nakedness  and say that being nude isn’t brave.  And while nudity in and of itself isn’t a “brave” role and in and of itself is not Oscar worthy.  However it is in the bravery and confidence that Helen holds herself and her character that deserves the nod (if not the win).  Hunt has been naked before (1992’s Waterdance) but her performance here is strikingly poised and honest (I’m not comparing the roles, I’ve not seen Waterdance).  Hunt’s character in the Sessions is not about sexy (however she is quite sexy).  It is about how a woman can make a man take pride in his body when his body is not his own to command?  Cheryl shows a 38 year old man who cannot raise his own hand how to touch a women, how to caress, and what it is like to be caressed.  Helen portrays a women who has sex with men not to get them off but to be confident in them selves that they carry that over into their next relationship; “The difference between a surrogate and prostitute is that a prostitute wants your return business, I don’t”.  Helen plays this honestly and openly with no shame but also with a humanity that brought tears to my eyes.

The film overall may not be a sweeping epic of desire and love but in it’s scope to show one man’s heartache and desire to be touched by the world around him; it is a wonderful success.

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