AFI DOCS 2014 (Days 3&4)

The Sessions

I’ll make this quick, because it’s an indie best reviewed by the indie-minded among us (note to Arty Chick – the screener is headed your way). I watched The Sessions for the same reason I watched Shame last year. I’d heard that the story was interesting and the performances excellent. And it’s true. It’s just not my cup of tea. And let’s just say it could make for one awkward date movie, unless you’re both heavy into psychology, therapy and the like. The film is based on the true story of Mark O’Brien, a poet who contracted polio as a child and became paralyzed from the neck down. He depends on an iron lung to survive and though smart and funny (in a dry, sarcastic kind of way), his situation does not exactly attract the ladies.

At age 38, while researching an article on ‘sex and the disabled’, O’Brien – played with physical and emotional aplomb by John Hawkes- decides he wants to lose his virginity. With the blessing of his priest (William H. Macy) and his therapist, O’Brien turns to a sex surrogate named Cheryl (Helen Hunt) to help him fully achieve his… um… goal. In six sessions or less.

Now, as you can imagine, it would be hard to pull off this storyline without some nudity. And this flick has some of the most extended, yet least gratuitous nude scenes (not sex scenes) you’ll ever see. Hunt’s character is extremely comfortable in her skin – and her profession. The heart of the film is about the physical and emotional connection that develops between Mark and Cheryl, who has a rule about revealing too much personal stuff to her patients. Ultimately, each has  something to teach the other about living life to its fullest, breath by breath.

The Sessions is a solid and moving film – sort of an arty twist on the 40-Year-Old Virgin. If you liked Shame, you may want to check this one out. Just choose your cinema companions carefully.

2 Comments

  1. Arty Chick, December 2, 2012:

    I am not sure this and Shame have much in common except the obvious sexual slant. I found Shame to be porn for art’s sake. I cannot say I was a big fan of this film either though. I appreciate that both of these actors were able to give such earnest and open performances, but at the end I just was not all that moved by it. Great performances did not make up for a lack of real character development for me. I couldn’t figure out why the women loved him. It was not pity, but some non-sexual therapy story might have made a difference. It felt too much like there were things you were expected to just take on faith. Arty or not, this was not a hit for me.

  2. Mainstream Chick, December 2, 2012:

    Good to know. Different reasons, perhaps, but not a hit for me either.

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