It’s not often a film filled with explicit sex scenes could also be classified as a crowd pleaser, but such is the paradox and triumph of The Sessions. Written and directed by Ben Lewin, The Sessions balances the tragic with the comedic, the beauty with the pain, and love with loneliness. Based around such a perfectly constructed script, it would be hard for the film to misstep, but it still aided by amazing performances from every cast member. The awards buzz surrounding this film is completely earned, as it emerges as one of the best of the year.
In this touching true story Mark O’Brien, played with Oscar worthy magnificence from only the neck up by John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone), suffers from such severe polio that he is unable to be outside his iron long for more than a few hours. Despite this he managed to graduate university and become an esteemed writer and poet. Where the film takes off is in his late thirties where he seeks to fill the void left by a lifetime of being unable to truly connect to another human, physically and emotionally. After a declaration of love falls flat, Mark seeks a sexual surrogate to let him experience a part of life foreign to him. Enter Cheryl, played with serenity and complexity by Helen Hunt (As Good as It Gets) in a career best performance, to guide him through a six session regime.
For what so easily could have been bogged down in sentiment and anguish, the script by Ben Lewin is an absolute triumph, capturing all the nuances of these characters and their relationships. Mark and Cheryl are as beautifully written as they are performed, but even the more minor characters sizzle with clever and succinct writing. For such a specific story, affecting only a few, the film triumphs in revealing a kaleidoscope of human emotions and truths.
The sex scenes in particular are bound to keep people talking. Though they are explicit in nature, they are done in an uncommonly mature way that reveal more about the characters than a teary soliloquy ever could. It’s refreshing to see all clichés stripped away, with characters left as emotionally bare as they are physically. This is only one of the many ways in which the film engages with its content in such a natural way, that it is unlikely not to stay with audiences members long after they leave the cinema.
The Sessions is released in Australia on November 8th
Director: Ben Lewin
Cast: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H Macy