December 04, 2012

MOVIES: The Sessions (Ben Lewin, 2012)

The Sessions is a very good TV movie-of-the-week, elevated to that level by its two lead performances.

It's based on the life of Mark O'Brien (played here by John Hawkes), who at the time of these events was in his late 30s. He had polio as a child, and spent most of his day in an iron lung, but longed to have at least one sexual relationship. Enter sexual surrogate Cheryl Cohen Greene (Helen Hunt); the movie is about their therapy sessions and the relationship that develops between them.

Hawkes and Hunt are both fine. I've never known anyone with polio, so I can't speak to how accurate Hawkes' portrayal is, but it feels right, especially the voice -- thin, airy, speaking in short phrases with frequent pauses for breath. Hunt is obliged to play many of her scenes in the nude, and her comfort with that makes it less awkward than it might be.

The movie does, however, suffer from the usual movie double standard about nudity. Hunt is frequently shown in full-body shots; we never see Hawkes below the waist. It's coy and distracting. The other movie cliche that keeps the movie from rising out of TV territory is the notion that disabled people are special, spiritual beings, and that just to be in their presence will make you a better person and move you in ways you've never known.

Hawkes and Hunt are worth seeing, but you won't miss anything by waiting for DVD or cable to see them.

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