The Movie Waffler New Release Review - The Sessions | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - The Sessions

Directed by: Ben Lewin
Starring: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy, Moon Bloodgood, Adam Arkin, Rhea Perlman

To lose his virginity, a polio victim hires a sex surrogate.

Unable to move a muscle from the neck down, poet Mark O'Brien (Hawkes) has given up on his dream of experiencing an intimate relationship with a woman. Unlike his useless limbs, his sexual organs are fully active but, at the age of 38, he remains a virgin. To remedy this, he hires a professional sex surrogate (Hunt) for a number of sessions. A hopeless romantic, O'Brien has fallen for every woman who ever showed him affection and quickly develops feelings for Hunt, who likewise grows fond of her client. She is unable to show her feelings, due to being a married mother, however, making the professional arrangement difficult to continue.
American cinema rarely broaches the subject of sex in anything approaching an adult manner. Usually it's the subject of bad gags in teen comedies so it's refreshing to see it dealt with in a serious manner. Hunt may spend most of her screen time naked as the day she was born but don't be fooled into thinking this is any kind of "edgy" film-making. Sex may be treated with dignity but, sadly, it's a dignity not afforded to the disabled. Despite a great performance from Hawkes, you never really feel as if you're watching someone genuinely suffering. The same storyline could have worked just as well with a protagonist who is merely physically unattractive. That could have worked as an interesting exploration of our image obsessed culture. As it is, 'The Sessions' explores very little.
Polio is presented as yet another of those "cute" illnesses Hollywood loves so much. By the end of the film Hawkes seems to have more female admirers than Warren Beatty. The movie is based on a true story but, of course, it's been adapted in a disingenuous way. In reality, O'Brien and his surrogate became friends, with no evidence of romantic feelings on her part. It's also highly unlikely that a Catholic priest, played here by Macy, would give his approval of the arrangement. If there's one thing the Catholic church frowns on, it's people taking control of their own bodies. Macy's character is a pure Hollywood creation, the hipster priest with his flowing locks and six-packs of beer.
'The Sessions' is ultimately just another patronizing piece of disability minstrelism; a pat on the head courtesy of an able-bodied audience. Maybe someday Hollywood will be brave enough to address the issue of disability, be it mental or physical, in an honest manner, without able-bodied stars stealing parts they could never realistically portray. Until then, life goes on.
The Sessions (2012) on IMDb 7.4/10

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