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Fox Searchlight Pictures // R // October 19, 2012
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Anrdoezrs]
Being a human can be described by many of the actions that we're known to do. We laugh, cry, love, hate, have sex, and so much more. A realistic piece of cinema in the drama genre is known to use a bunch of these humanistic traits in order to tell a story and create a connection with the audience. The Sessions follows a male character that will have viewers captivated in almost every conversation. This independent film has been receiving a lot of positive buzz for a while, but it's not over. It wouldn't be surprising if this gets mentioned as the date of the Academy Awards approaches.
Based on the autobiographical writings of California-based journalist and poet Mark O'Brien (John Hawkes), this film tells the story of a man confined to an iron lung in order to keep breathing. He can only be separated from the machine for a matter of hours. At the age of 38, he still hasn't been able to find his true love due to his condition. He feels that he's getting older, so he wants to lose his virginity, but his religious beliefs has him doubting his desires. O'Brien finds trust in his priest, Father Brendan (William H. Macy). After deciding to explore his sexuality, he contacts Cheryl (Helen Hunt), a professional sex surrogate. With each session, he begins to explore more than his sexuality, but his feelings for Cheryl.
The plot instantly sounds like Oscar-bait, but that's not the reason that this film was made. There's a real story to be told, which is actually conveyed very well by writer/director Ben Lewin. He has crafted a screenplay rich with incredibly likable characters who are full of witty dialogue. Mark O'Brien is smart and poetic, but sometimes feels that he isn't able to live the life that he would if he wasn't disabled. He relies on Father Brendan for advice. This role could have easily become an overly preachy stereotype. Fortunately, Father Brendan never speaks line after line of religious text, but becomes a personal friend of Mark's. After he finally gets the courage to go to a sex therapist, he meets Cheryl. She's a kind and understanding woman who genuinely cares about Mark and wants to help him with his request to explore. The relationships between the characters feel real and there's enough development to go around. Some audiences might be bothered by how much the film goes into Cheryl's family life, but I found it to be a nice way to show her personal life. These are well-rounded characters who establish a connection with the viewers.
As The Sessions continues to progress, it consistently manages to hold the attention of its viewers, although there are some pacing issues during a small portion of the final act. Somewhere towards the end, a lot is explained through a narration and then it ends quickly. The last plot point of this film is very crucial and it should have been given more screen time. All of these big plot points could have easily turned into something that feels like a made-for-TV movie, but they never do. Writer/director Ben Lewin keeps the drama contained and it never becomes too melodramatic. However, this is a movie strictly for older audiences due to the adult subject matter. Lewin handles the topics in this film very appropriately, as he clearly has a great amount of respect for Mark O'Brien, which is most certainly conveyed through how this feature is executed. While this screenplay isn't absolute perfection, it's smart and well-crafted.
Actor John Hawkes received recognition from moviegoers all around the world for his great performance in Winter's Bone. Expect to hear his name circulating around the industry once award-season begins. His acting in the role of Mark O'Brien is spectacular. Not only did he clearly understand the character, but he made it his own. Helent Hunt is fantastic as Cheryl. She's very convincing and develops some truly worthwhile chemistry with Hawkes on screen. While William H. Macy doesn't receive a lot of screen time as Father Brendan, he's great when he gets the opportunity to shine. This is a powerhouse of a cast that's sure to impress audiences everywhere.
The Sessions is a charming and well-written film that follows a character that audiences will find extremely likable. This might appear to be the Oscar-bait that comes out every year, but this film genuinely has a story to tell that will captivate its viewers with its charming characters, witty dialogue, decent pacing, and phenomenal actors. Writer/director Ben Lewin's passion for this subject is clear from the moment the movie begins until the credits begin to roll. While the movie has some small issues that I could nitpick at, this film has far more pros than cons. The Sessions comes highly recommended.