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The Sessions – funny, genuine, sometimes subtle, sometimes not

Paul Peterson

Paul Peterson

I’m pretty sure I have never taken on back-to-back video releases, but do you really need me to tell you that A Good Day To Die Hard should have been called A Good Day To Kill This Series? Is it really necessary for me to point out that if John Maclean never went away he would never have a problem?
I’m just saying.  I think it’s interesting to note that Arnold, Sly and Bruce have all had under-performing  action pictures this year. The only film that worked was the one all three were in. Learn from the past boys.

For me, the best film of the week was the one I saw a while back, The Sessions, starring John Hawkes, Helen Hunt and William H Macy.
Hawkes plays  Mark O’Brien, a man who lives in an iron lung as a result of the polio he suffered when he was a young boy. Based on a very real person, the movie is also based on an article O’Brien wrote called On Seeing A Sex Surrogate.
It’s such a great film, I really don’t know where to start.
First of all, Hawkes portrayal of O’Brien is second only to Daniel Day Lewis in terms of best performance by an actor. He becomes O’Brien. His physical presence, his voice, his wit.
This is the same man who was Teardrop, the meth addict in Winters Bone, but he’s unrecognizable in this film.
He captures the power of this man who is forced to live in an iron lung most of the day and only gets out for a few hours a day.
This man who is a devout catholic and seeks his priest’s blessing to lose his virginity, and to hire a sex surrogate to help with that mission. He takes his faith very seriously and understands the church’s position on sex outside of marriage. He feels some urgency however, because he has a feeling that his days are numbered.

The supporting cast is important here. William H Macy is his usual quirky brilliance as the priest who offers absolution and direction, even though we’re not sure who’s shepherding who.
Helen Hunt is credible as Cheryl, the sex surrogate who insists she isn’t a hooker, and who has her own vulnerabilities and weak spots. She’s naked a lot in this film. I think that’s her stuff, not the directors. I’m counting carbs at the moment so I’m not really in my right mind, but I thought the nudity was gratuitous.
(Wow. Did I really just type that?)

The intimacy wasn’t. Nudge, nudge wink, wink jokes aside, there is something rather amazing that happens between the two and Cheryl, like the audience, starts to fall under this man’s charm. While there is the voyeur’s perspective for the audience it is also totally appropriate that we watch. There’s something redemptive about it.
Really while this film is ostensibly about a man with some disability trying to lose his virginity, it quickly becomes about something much bigger and smaller.
It’s about how we touch each other. The true nature of intimacy. The power of personality.

In truth, this film is just about what a larger-than-life character Mark O’Brien was.
The director, a polio survivor himself, never casts him as weak or admirable in that “way to go big guy” way. He is fierce and funny and you can’t help but be drawn into his vortex.
I wanted to know so much more.
He’s so funny. He never misses a beat when he’s poking fun at anything in front of him and he was one hell of a writer.
Maybe that’s the great equalizer.
He couldn’t travel the physical plain much but by God, his words moved people.
I wanted more.

The film is incredibly funny. Genuine, sometimes subtle, other times not so much, I laughed throughout and smiled for its entirety.
He taught people.
He touched people.
He inspired me.
Maybe it’s some kind of deep-rooted bias being  I’m surprised that a dude in an iron lung has that kind of charisma.
If that’s the point of the film then good on me.
What I know is this is sweet and funny and smart and I’m going to go and read anything I can that Mark O’Brien wrote because  I want to know more. That’s about as good as it gets in terms of me recommending a film.
The Sessions is a great watch.
As always, other opinions are welcome, but wrong. That’s it for this week. The cheque’s in the mail and I’m outta here. Paul

Filed Under: News from Everywhere ElsePaul Peterson

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