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The Sessions

Based on the triumphant true story

'The Sessions' is this year's unexpected delight of a film. Unexpected because you wouldn't think a movie about a man who lives most of his life in an iron lung would be this much fun. Especially since he sets out in the film to lose his virginity. This sounds like a set-up for heart-wrenching disappointment, frustration and sadness. And all of that factors into this real-life story, but it's overwhelmed by joy and exuberance and an honest sensuality that's rarely seen in popular culture. It doesn't hurt, of course, that the movie also features two Oscar-worthy performances from previous Oscar nominee John Hawkes ("Winter's Bone") and Oscar-winner Helen Hunt ("As Good As It Gets"). The intimacy these two build onscreen is a thing of rare beauty. Hawkes stars as Mark O'Brien, a poet and journalist who, thanks to a childhood bout of polio, spends all but a few hours of every day in an iron lung, which helps him breathe. Paralyzed from the neck down, O'Brien depends on home health aides and the coffin-like iron lung to keep him alive. At the age of 36, he decides he no longer wants to remain a virgin. Deeply religious, he seeks counsel from his priest (William H. Macy), who figures God will be OK with O'Brien's quest. Researching the subject, O'Brien comes to the decision to hire a professional sex surrogate. That surrogate would be Cheryl Cohen-Greene (Hunt), a married mother who has strict rules. She's there to teach O'Brien how his body works and to help him discover his own sensuality. Her therapy includes a limited number of sessions and then he's on his own. But O'Brien has never been able to get as close to a woman as he does with Cheryl, and complications inevitably arise for both therapist and client as they become friends and lovers. "The Sessions" is written and directed by Ben Lewin who also had polio as a child and brings just the right touch to the film: He's never overly sentimental, opting instead to be warm and frank and funny. Even though there's a lot of sex talk and nudity in this film, it never feels salacious in the least; it feels more like a celebration of human connection. And the fearless drive for that connection comes through clearly in Hawkes' amazingly controlled physical performance. He holds O'Brien's hyper-thin body in a rigid twist throughout the film, selling the character from the neck up, and mixes just the right notes of bitterness and eternal optimism in O'Brien's personality. Most importantly, Hawkes never once appears to be acting. People keep calling Hunt's performance here "brave," likely because she's a 49-year-old Oscar-winning actress who goes through most of the film stark raving nude. Well, let's be frank — she looks pretty fantastic, so it's unclear how much courage disrobing demanded. A far better description of her work would be "tender" — and funny and complex and all other things positive. Watching her and Hawkes work together is pretty much acting heaven. "The Sessions" may be just a smidge too shiny at times — you start to wonder if your life might better be spent in an iron lung — but it's hard to fault a film this good for being honestly upbeat. Again, an absolute delight. Courtesy: Tom Long, The Detroit News Official Trailer
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Directed by: 
Ben Lewin
Running Time: 
John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy, Moon Bloodgood, Adam Arkin
Screenplay by: 
Ben Lewin

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