Who could possibly find fault with a man confined by night in an iron lung having sex with Helen Hunt?
I’m leaving on a short vacation out-of-state, so let me keep this review rather brief. This is an interesting, flawed film that deserves your consideration because of the extraordinary performance by John Hawkes.
Mr. Hawkes plays Mark O’Brien, a polio victim who is completely paralyzed from the neck down. Based on a true story, it initially recognizes his sensational accomplishment of graduating from college despite the fact of being confined to a motorized stretcher.
Hawkes is outstanding in the role of a paralyzed man who is left with one principal goal in life, namely to have sexual intercourse for the first time. Sleeping in an iron lung at home every night where he lives alone, having sex remains his passion and who in the hell can fault that ambition?
Hawkes gives a devastating performance as a paralyzed man who literally can’t move. He depends on hired help for everything from a bath to being pushed around in public, and the fact that he maintains a sense of humor will stir you emotionally.
Mr. Hawkes is one of those actors who usually flies under the cinema’s radar screen. However, those of you that loved the TV series “Deadwood” (2004-2006) remember him as Timothy Oliphant’s capable assistant, Sol Star. While he was memorably wiped out in the early moments of “Miami Vice” (2006), his role as Teardrop, an Ozark meth addict, enabled him to join his co-star Jennifer Lawrence with Oscar nominations for the gripping Winter’s Bone (2010).
It should also be noted that William H. Macy plays Father Brendan, the priest whom Hawkes seeks out for advice. Obviously, Macy is dancing in a territory that is completely foreign, but his support of Hawkes is as genuine as it is amusing.
However, The Sessions has one major flaw, namely its sad depiction of women as being both emotionally weak and vulnerable. Sure, Moon Bloodgood stands out as Vera, his loyal assistant, and she remains dedicated to his well being from the very beginning. However, the usually wonderful Helen Hunt plays his sexual consultant, and she totally unravels as a professional woman who falls for her invalid client when she is simply to provide him with the chance for sexual satisfaction.
Additionally, two other characters are incredibly weak in that they also can’t honor professional restraints. One is a young assistant to Mr. Hawkes who has the good sense to run from him when he expresses his love, and the other is a volunteer at a hospital who finds no problem becoming enamored with him when he acknowledges that he is not a virgin.
There is a lot to obviously like about The Sessions, but it falls far short of the earlier release this year of The Intouchables, the French film concerning a wealthy man also paralyzed from the neck down. I reviewed that intriguing film months ago, and The Sessions sadly fails its achievement of giving the female assistants the admiration they deserve. Without meaning to be unduly harsh,The Sessions lacks the inherent charm of The Intouchables.
I also must mention that during the sexual encounters shown on screen,Ms. Hunt appears fully naked at times. This is consistent with other films this year, which includes Killer Joe, The Master, and Flight. Tragically, this clearly confirms the chauvinism dominating Hollywood. Why is it that men are never displayed completely nude?
To get right to the point, here’s the deal. You don’t have to be General Petraeus to know that sex is hot. If Hollywood is now free to show completely naked women, then it is time that they follow the same rule concerning men. I for one think it is time that the movie industry stops being so fearful of the almighty penis.