When I see a movie in theaters (or in this one case, as an iTunes rental), I will write the five things you need to know about it. Additional note: I am working my way through the movies that are relevant to next month’s Academy Awards (nominated in one of the six major categories). Stay tuned for AMOUR and LIFE OF PI before the February 24 Oscar telecast.
5 Things You Need to Know About…
1. The Sessions features an Academy Award nominated performance from Helen Hunt (Best Actress in a Supporting Role) as Cheryl, a sex surrogate therapist, and an Academy Award nomination “notable omission” performance from John Hawkes (“Yeah, we kind of messed that one up.” – the Academy to John Hawkes after he was robbed of a Best Actor nomination) as Mark O’Brien, a real-life poet and author whose below the head muscles were immobilized from a childhood bout with polio, and whose essay, “Seeing a Sex Surrogate,” was the basis for the movie. Hawkes is sensational throughout the movie, and, although he expertly conveys the physical challenges O’Brien, it is his understanding of O’Brien’s humor and poetic sparkle that is the ultimate stand out of his performance. Helen Hunt is nominated in a crowded field of woman vying for an unannounced second place finish (there is no way that Anne Hathaway loses this one) and she deserves to be here for her courageous physical and emotional vulnerability.
2. One of the primary reasons The Sessions (and its lead performances for that matter) succeed is in its open and honest portrayal of the Hunt/Hawkes sex surrogate sessions. Within the arbitrary and at times archaic MPAA R rating construct, director Ben Lewin does not hold too much back. Helen Hunt (49!), in particular, seems completely comfortable naked (Rhea Perlman points this out later in the movie) and the movies most important scenes resonate consequently.
3. The Sessions makes important comments on how religion can have such a significant (and often negative) effect on our sexual being. William H. Macy’s somewhat melancholy Father Brendan (crazy Shameless haircut and all) is expertly portrayed as an embodiment of the dichotomy between the Catholic Church message of sexual repression and guilt and his own human insight as an “off the priest record” friend. Through some highly effective non-verbal scenes and expressions, Father Brendan struggles with his own turn at sexuality when he watches Hawkes’ Mark O’Brien improbably break out of his literal sexual iron box, knowing that his own sexual life remains constrained by the celibacy oath of priesthood. Both Mark O’Brien and Cheryl at different developmental stages must remove the Catholicism (and its guilt ridden teachings) to fully realize their sexuality. In a instance of clever ironic juxtaposition, Cheryl’s conversion to Judaism mikvah bath scene with a completely comfortable with nudity Rhea Pearlman as “Mikvah Lady” highlights how certain faiths have evolved more in areas of sexuality and the human body.
4. On a Boston accent execution scale from Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting (“How Do You Like Them Apples?”) authentic to Kevin Costner (movie after movie, a consistent master class in what not to do with an accent) horrendous in Thirteen Days, John Hawkes is closer to Damon than Costner and Helen Hunt (her character is from Salem) is closer to Costner than Damon.
5. The Sessions is a movie that aspires to be a film whose candid and honest portrayal of the humanity of one man’s disability provides us a body awareness exercise for us to rework our own preconceptions about the awe-inspiring possibilities of love.
David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about pop culture and the NBA for Bishop and Company. He writes weekly TV columns on Afterbuzztv.com (currently, Fox’s “The Following”) and his weekly THE CHALLENGE: BATTLE OF THE SEASONS Power Rankings can be read on Derek Kosinski’s ultimatechallengeradio.com.