Ses­sions breathes sen­si­tiv­ity

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - MOVIES -

IVEN that it’s based on the true story of a man with po­lio who spends most of his time in an iron lung, The Ses­sions is not as painfully heavy-handed as it sounds. And given that it’s about this man’s ner­vous at­tempts to lose his vir­gin­ity at age 38, it isn’t as ob­nox­iously wacky as it sounds.

In­stead, The Ses­sions in­hab­its a safe grey area some­where in the mid­dle. While it has some dif­fi­cult and heart­felt per­for­mances and mo­ments of un­com­fort­able hon­esty, ul­ti­mately writer-di­rec­tor Ben Lewin’s film feels too slight, too pat and some­what over­hyped.

The hugely ver­sa­tile John Hawkes ( Win­ter’s Bone, Martha Marcy May Mar­lene) gives a sub­tly funny, im­pres­sive per­for­mance as Mark O’Brien, which must have been a mas­sive phys­i­cal chal­lenge.

As the Berke­ley, Cal­i­for­nia-based poet and jour­nal­ist whose 1990 ar­ti­cle ‘‘On See­ing a Sex Sur­ro­gate’’ in­spired the script, Hawkes is called upon to act en­tirely with his face and voice, fre­quently hav­ing to keep his torso still while ly­ing down in a con­torted pos­ture.

Lewin – who also con­tracted po­lio as a child – lays out the de­tails of Mark’s daily ex­is­tence in mat­ter-of-fact fash­ion and with zero con­de­scen­sion. He can breathe on his own for a few hours at a time and can turn the pages of a book or dial a phone with a stick in his mouth. He can’t move any­thing from the neck down, but can feel sen­sa­tion.

Hence, his in­ter­est in vis­it­ing Ch­eryl Co­hen Greene, a mar­ried sex ther­a­pist played with ap­peal­ing di­rect­ness (and loads of nu­dity) by He­len Hunt. Their body lan­guage some­times lit­er­ally re­veals ev­ery­thing about them in the first of their six sched­uled meet­ings, mak­ing The Ses­sions a rare film that ad­dresses sex­u­al­ity in such an un­adorned, judg­ment-free way.

While the sug­ges­tion of a deeper ro­man­tic con­nec­tion be­tween the two feels forced, their shared sense of hu­man­ity and self-dep­re­cat­ing hu­mour make their meet­ings com­pelling. Hunt ra­di­ates a kind­ness and de­cency that helps keep the film grounded.

Wil­liam H. Macy gets some laughs as the Catholic pri­est who helps Mark rec­on­cile his cu­rios­ity with his deep faith.

Over­all, The Ses­sions is a nice story – but not one that’s told with any par­tic­u­lar stylis­tic panache or emo­tional power.

opens to­day.

He­len Hunt and John Hawkes in

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