Movie Reviews & Interviews from Washington

‘The Sessions’ Review: John Hawkes Deserves Best Actor Nom

Poliomyelitis, defined by an acute viral disease, usually affecting children and young adults, caused by any of three polioviruses, characterized by inflammation of the motor neurons of the brain stem and spinal cord, and resulting in a motor paralysis, followed by muscular atrophy and often permanent deformities.

Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes) is 38 years old and is confined to an iron lung for the majority of his waking life. He was diagnosed with polio during his childhood and became paralysed shortly after. Because of Mark’s paralysis he has little sexual experience, and by little I mean none. He’s a virgin, and before he leaves this Earth, he wants to lose his virginity and experience sex.

Mark, a successful poet who relies highly on his faith, talks to his priest, Father Brendan (William H. Macy) about the pros and cons of sex while unmarried. Father Brendan gives it a second of thought before he gives Mark the go-ahead to have a sex life.

Fellow friends with disabilities recommend that Mark use a sex surrogate, a person who engages in intimate relations and sex with someone in order to achieve a therapeutic goal. After a lot of convincing from his friends (and priest), Mark schedules six sessions with a surrogate, Cheryl (Helen Hunt).

Who knew that someone could make a movie about sex so elegantly? Director and writer Ben Lewin created a beautiful screenplay, based on a true story, that is both passionate and touching. Lewin contracted polio at age six and can certainly relate to the struggles that lead character Mark must endure.

Hawkes plays our leading character with such grace and humor. The talented actor makes it easy for the audience to understand how challenging and emotional it is for those with polio. I couldn’t take my eyes away from the movie, his performance is amazing and one of the best of the year.

Hunt does a fantastic job of playing the non-chalant sex surrogate, fleeing from her clothes with ease and confidence. It’s fascinating because her scenes are awkward in a brilliant way. We, as the audience, feel a little awkward during these scenes because of how at ease she is with her body, almost like how Mark (Hawkes) feels every time they get intimate. This is certainly (and hopefully) the comeback performance for the “As Good As It Gets” actress.

Expect to see Ben Lewin’s “The Sessions” up for several Academy Awards in February including Best Picture, Best Actor (John Hawkes), Best Supporting Actor (William H. Macy) and Best Supporting Actress (Helen Hunt). Each is certainly deserving of a nomination and out of all the leading male performances this year, Hawkes deserves to take home the gold.

“The Sessions” works because it’s emotionally engaging, funny, dramatic and beautifully led by one of Hollywood’s most underrated actors, John Hawkes.

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