Some movie are dependant on a couple of performances rather than the story those performances are serving. The Sessions is one such film because the central performance is so demanding on the actor. John Hawkes plays a man with a disability requiring an iron lung, meaning he is stuck in a vertical position for most of the movie, being able to do very little with his performance than move his head or talk. This isn’t really a movie about disability though, at least not completely.
The movie is about the idea of a sex surrogate, someone who is willing to help people who have trouble having sex to do exactly that. It’s a very sensitive and intimate subject and subsequently requires such performances from the actors. Helping Hawkes’ character Mark is Helen Hunt, who in some cases has to expose herself intimately more than Hawkes does.
The two central performances drive the movie and the film is about their relationship, which begins as something quite awkward and distant and then grows into something neither of them were expecting, and in at least one of their cases, wanted. It’s an interesting comment on being able to distant sex from feelings and a relationship, in a much more sensitive way than with the Timberlake/Kunis movie Friends with Benefits.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much more to the movie than this story. That isn’t necessarily a negative but it does mean that you are watching a tale unfold that you can have seen before or if you know anything about movie narrative, can guess where it is going.
Hawkes saves this somewhat with a witty, sensitive and very likable portrayal as Mark. There are some very comedic moments in amongst the more mature subject matter, this is expressed particularly well when he has meetings with his priest, Father Brendan, played brilliantly by William H Macy.
That doesn’t change the fact that this is a tale that has been done before, just maybe not with such heavy a subject material. The main theme, examining the link between sex and relationships, is something that has been covered in many different ways, in many other types of movies.
Overall, The Sessions is a success on the fantastic performances by its leads, John Hawkes and Helen Hunt, who give themselves completely to difficult roles. Hawkes transforms into Mark and his disability while Hunt exposes more of herself than most would be comfortable with. It’s just a shame that the overall story of the movie doesn’t feel particularly new or fresh.
Rating – 3.5
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