Movie Review: THE SESSIONS - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Terry's Take

Movie Review: THE SESSIONS

Oscar winner Helen Hunt and Oscar nominee John Hawkes star in a new movie that won the audience award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival."

THE SESSIONS is based on the writings of Mark O'Brien, a polio victim who spent most of his short life in an iron lung.  The film is a well acted, touching, and often funny account of how this poet--journalist lost his virginity at the age of 38 with the help of a sex surrogate.

Hawkes plays Mark O'Brien, a 38 year old man who has had polio since he was a little boy.  Mark has attendants who help him with everything because except two or three hours a day, he lies inside an iron lung which pretty much does his breathing for him. (He types on a computer by holding a thin rod in his mouth and punching the keys with it.)
Most of us who are reasonably healthy don't like to think about what it would be like to be disabled, let alone as helpless as Mark is. But the fact is the disabled  are just like us, needing warmth and love from other humans.  And when mark's therapist tells him he could seek the services of a sex surrogate,  he decides to ask his priest if that would OK with God.

William Macy as the priest tells Mark: "In my heart I feel like he'll give you a free pass on this one. Go for it."

And that leads to Mark's meeting Cheryl, a sex surrogate  played by Helen Hunt. Their delicate, somewhat awkward interactions are the heart of the film.

Cheryl: Although the aim is for us to have sex, I'm not a prostitute. You don't have to pay me up front. I have nothing against prostitutes but there's a difference. We can talk about that later.
Mark: I'm sorry.
Cheryl: the other thing is there's a limit to the number of sessions we can have. did Laura mention that when you saw her?
Mark:  I'm sorry. I don't remember.
Cheryl: The limit is six, but that gives us plenty of opportunity to explore.

Cheryl is direct, honest and even matter of fact, but she's also touched by this nervous, inexperienced man.

Cheryl: How do you feel right now?
Mark: Out of my league.
Cheryl: I meant your breathing.

Both  actors give brave performances. (Hunt is nude in several scenes.) Each character is vulnerable  because, as the movie shows, sexual contact between sensitive human beings always has emotional consequences.

Cheryl is actually a therapist as well as a sex surrogate. "Picture yourself as a six year old boy," she says to Mark. "Do you blame him for getting polio?"

There is nothing seedy or exploitive about this movie.  In fact, THE SESSIONS is likely stay in your heart and for a very long time.

Terry Hunter, Hawaii News Now.   e mail:

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