At the Movies: The Sessions

This movie opened in St. Louis last weekend but I didn’t see it until last night. It’s not really the kind of film you rush out to see opening day. It’s more the kind you go see after it garners multiple Oscar nominations.

And odds are pretty good on that score. “The Sessions” is a moving, heartfelt story with many outstanding performances. It also features an abundance of nudity and frank sex talk, which doesn’t necessarily make it Oscar-worthy, but it’s the kind of thing some people would want to know in advance before they go see it.

“The Sessions” stars John Hawkes as Mark O’Brien, a poet/journalist living in California who has spent most of his life in an iron lung. A victim of polio as a child, Mark can only spend a few hours at a time away from the iron lung, and then has to be wheeled everywhere on a stretcher.

At age 38, and knowing he doesn’t have many more years ahead of him, Mark decides he wants to lose his virginity. A devout Catholic, he turns to his priest of advice and support. Father Brendan (William H. Macy) concludes God wouldn’t object under the circumstances.

Mark gets in touch with a sex surrogate named Cheryl (Helen Hunt), who plans to help him achieve intercourse within six sessions. He’s terrified at first but eventually the client and the specialist work things out. Hawkes and Hunt give strong, raw performances in challenging roles. Macy is also good as the patient, understanding priest.

Written and directed by Ben Lewin and based on O’Brien’s writings, “The Sessions” deals with sensitive subject matter with humor and heart. It’s a touching, emotionally charged tale that pulls no punches in taking on the subject of sexuality and the disabled.

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