Helen Hunt bares all for a little sexual healing with a paralyzed man, in the true-story turned touching new comic-drama.
A priest, a poet in an iron lung and a sex surrogate walk into a bar. No, it’s not a joke — It’s the premise of the new erotic comedy, The Sessions, in theaters Oct. 19.
So okay, there’s no bar. And the paralyzed man (John Hawkes) isn’t walking anywhere either. John plays Mark, a 38 year-old writer crippled by polio since childhood, who takes on a “sex therapist” to help him discover pleasures of the flesh he’s never known. The Sessions, is based largely on the writings of real-life California-based journalist and poet, Mark O’Brien, who documented his earnestly fumbling late-stage quest to lose his virginity.
Here are the top 5 reasons to see The Sessions.
#1) Helen Hunt: The Academy-Award winning actress plays Cheryl, a “sex surrogate/therapist” who treats her job with the clinical seriousness of a psychiatrist: she dictates detailed notes into a tape recorder, asks probing questions about Mark’s childhood, and has the bedside manner of a saint with a medical degree. Helen also spends the bulk of the film completely naked. The actress, 49, is a fearless nudist, and emotes a confidence in her body and sexuality – in an extremely adventurous role – women half her age could envy.
#2) It’s blessed: The crippled Mark is also a relatively religious man. In his own sardonic words, he can’t imagine not having, “someone to blame.” He takes the spiritual counsel of a particularly understanding priest, Father Brendan (William H. Macy), seeking blessing for his sexual odyssey. Mark’s unusual circumstances merit him special consideration from Father Brendan, and the friendship between the men grounds the film. It’s the kind of sounding-board role screenwriters use to allow a main character to express their innermost thoughts aloud. In lesser hands, that utility in a character renders it two dimensional and false. The ever-reliable William H. Macy though, elevates Father Brendan, largely with little more than a perfectly turned exasperated cringe at the frankness of Mark’s sexual confessions. It’s a portrayal of an open-minded spiritual confidante even the most secular of spirits could find consoling.
#3) It’s dirty: In one particularly graphic scene, Mark nearly chokes to death while performing oral sex on Helen Hunt’s Cheryl. A man who can’t so much as roll off his back, faces many obstacles in the pursuit of sexual enlightenment. Details like this would border on gratuitous if they weren’t so logistically plausible.
#4) It’s got heart: People who are severely disabled, confined to wheelchairs or sickbeds, can become invisible, treated with kindness, but not as fully sentient human beings with the complete variety of emotional needs we all share. This film creates a world where an ordinary man bound for life to a gurney has his due share of faithful friends – Helen Hunt’s Cheryl most of all – who gaze deeply into his somewhat gaunt eyes and genuinely want to know what is behind them. It makes you wish all people who carry such heavy burdens of fate could be afforded the same basic humanity.
#5) The cast of Deadwood reunites!: Three veterans of the tragically truncated HBO western, including lead John Hawkes, play pivotal roles in this film. The most welcome sight for sore eyes is Robin Weigert, who played Deadwood‘s tirelessly foul-mouthed, spittle soaked, drunken, and gender bending Calamity Jane. Without the chaps and a layer of gold rush mining grime embedded in every pore, Robin is actually a wonderfully fetching woman and makes the most of a brief appearance as a genuine romantic interest to Mark. The couple’s possible relationship isn’t the focus of this film, but Robin’s short cameo gives a reminder how the quality of modern TV drama has made it a farm league for movie stars that have a more relatable dimension than the leagues of more typical model-turned-actors, who grin so beautifully, in lesser movies unlikely to make you smile.
– Gino Orlandini
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