How do you film a fact-based story about a disabled man overcoming his impairments through determination to achieve his dreams without producing a piece of sentimental awards bait? Well here’s one option, focus it entirely on his attempts to get laid.
‘The Sessions’ tells the story of Mark O’Brien, who has spent most of his life in an iron lung. Now he is 38, intelligent, and a writer/poet, but still a virgin. To help overcome this, he decides to hire a ‘sex surrogate’, who makes it clear from the start that she is ‘not a prostitute’. Instead her goal is to help her clients ‘explore their sexuality’.
All the sex is dealt with in a refreshingly frank manner, but also is given a comedic element by following it up with O’Brien describing, in detail, his experiences to his priest (William H. Macy).
Helen Hunt has been getting all sorts of deserved praise for her no-nonsense performance, with it being described as ‘brave’ ‘courageous’ ‘fearless’ etc. (i.e. requires lots of nudity). Macy also does great work as possibly the nicest priest in the world, clearly uncomfortable discussing such matters with O’Brien, but deciding not to discourage him, figuring that god will ‘give him a free pass’. It’s one-time bit player John Hawkes who has the most challenging role though, having to convey O’Brien’s conflict between his carnal desires and religious beliefs while being essentially immobile, a feat he manages with great skill.