by Eric D. Snider
Released: October 19, 2012
"The Sessions" tells a true story about a physically disabled man who enlists a professional sex surrogate to help him through the difficulties, both emotional and logistical, of losing his virginity. That may sound like shameless Oscar-bait -- a perception enhanced by the presence of John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, and William H. Macy -- but in truth the film is simpler than that, more small-scale, with a light and unpretentious sense of humor. Were it not for its frank sex scenes, it could be a TV movie.
I think it's important to make that distinction because otherwise, when you hear "true story," "disabled man," and "Helen Hunt," you think, Oh, boy, here we go. Get ready to be forcibly inspired by some grim thing I'll never want to watch again. But it's not that kind of movie. For one thing, it's too upbeat. For another thing, it's not about a handicapped man fighting the system or battling for equality. It's about a guy who wants to have sex. Everyone can relate to that.
Hawkes, his lean body and gaunt face serving him well, plays Mark O'Brien, a 38-year-old poet who spends most of his time in an iron lung and all of his time in a horizontal position. Stricken with polio as a child, he has virtually no control of any muscles below the neck, though he's not "paralyzed," strictly speaking. Nor is he complacent. Before the film begins, in 1988, he has already graduated from UC Berkeley, attending classes on a motorized gurney and using a mouth-held wand to type papers.
But unlike most college graduates and Berkeley residents, he's never had sex. He's unsure of the "hows," which makes him reluctant to actively seek a "who"; and not having a "who" means he has little motivation to research the "hows." At last he hits on the idea of a sex surrogate, one who specializes in helping the disabled learn how to adapt the act of doin' it to their specific circumstances.
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Rated R, a lot of frank nudity and sexuality, and discussion of same
1 hr., 35 min.
Copyright © Eric D. Snider.
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