Film: The Sessions (2012)
Cast includes: John Hawkes (The Perfect Storm, Winter's Bone), Helen Hunt (What Women Want), William H. Macy (Fargo), Moon Bloodgood (Pathfinder), Annika Marks (Mona Lisa Smile), Adam Arkin (Hitch)
Writer/Director: Ben Lewin (The Favour, the Watch and the Very Big Fish)
Genre: Drama (95 minutes)
Mark O'Brien, getting around on his electric gurney had become a familiar site on the UC Berkeley campus, where he studied English literature and graduated in 1982. "Today, I hope you see a man upon this stage," Mark said. He would never be like everyone else, but he never wanted to be defined by the polio that had left him confined to an iron lung for all but a few hours a day. It's 1988, and Mark still lives in Berkeley. He hates the fact that he has to rely so much on his assistant Joan, but he's "no longer allowed to use the self-propelled gurney because despite the mirrors, I couldn't exactly see where I was going." At church, Mark tells us he's a true believer... except that he "believes in a God with a sense of humor." There's a new priest this morning, and Mark asks him to hear his confession. It's about "my attendant, Joan. I'm getting rid of her. She looks at me the wrong way." Father Brendan gives his blessings, although Mark was planning to get rid of her regardless.
Typing with a stick, Mark composes an ad for a new assistant "seeking an assistant with a sense of humor." Amanda has no experience taking care of a disabled person. "Perfect," he says. And she is perfect... in fact, she's so perfect that Mark professes his love to Amanda. "She didn't seem to reciprocate," he tells Father Brendan. On the day his new assistant Vera arrives, Sandy from Pacific News calls to see if Mark is interested in doing a story about "sex and the disabled." Why not! Even though Mark can't really relate, one of the interviewees offers the phone number of a sex therapist. The idea gets Mark thinking. "My penis speaks to me, Father," he tells Father Brendan. "Are you talking about sex... outside of marriage?" asks the good Father. "It's one of the most talked about topics in the bible. I'm 38, and I feel I'm getting close to my use-by date," says Mark. "Somehow, I feel God will give you a pass," Father Brendan finally says.
The sessions with a sex surrogate are a key component of the story, but it's about so much more. Based on actual events, The Sessions gives us an intimate portrait of the struggles of a severely disabled man, who wants, above all, to be normal and experience some of the things normal people experience. Mark's sense of humor is one of his most important assets, but no amount of humor is going to help him connect with another person on an intimate level. Although his penis actually works, sexual intimacy isn't just a question of anatomy. Several articles Mark wrote serve as the inspiration for this touching story. But it's neither sappy nor salacious. It is, however, intimate. John Hawkes does such an amazing job of portraying the profoundly disabled Mark O'Brien, you'll feel like you're spending an hour and a half in his world. As Mark struggles to lead a partially normal life, there are so many challenges, that sometimes it's not easy to believe it's an achievable goal. "Maybe God is pointing out how useless it all is." Maybe on the other hand, God really does have a sense of humor.
3 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4)
Despite severe disabilities, real-life polio victim Mark O'Brien really wants to lose his virginity
Rated: R (Sexual content)
Distribution: Art house
Tempo: Cruises comfortably
Visual Style: Unvarnished realism
Character Development: Intense
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Thought provoking
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