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Jul 30, 2013

Review: The Sessions (2012)

           John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy, Moon Bloodgood, Annika Marks, W. Earl Brown, Blake Lindsley, Adam Arkin, Robin Weigert, Rusty Schwimmer and Rhea Perlman


                   Ben Lewin


                 The Sessions which was originally titled "The Surrogate" back when it was premiered at Sundance is a 2012 independent drama by writer/director Ben Lewin. Praised mostly for its two performances and the approach it takes for the exploration of its main subject, the movie won Audience Award (U.S. Dramatic) as well as Special Jury Prize for Ensemble acting at last year's Sundance Film Festival. While i knew how these indie movies are generally looked or treated in terms of their importance and worth, it was somehow not nominated for what looked like a sure-fire nomination. While Lewin has a presence in the movie because of his way around the main plot of the movie but its John Hawkes and his outstanding performance that made this movie such an engrossing experience for me. The Session tells the story of Mark O'Brien, he was a poet and a journalist paralyzed from the neck down due to the polio since his childhood. This movie is based on an essay that he wrote, so its more of a look at that particular phase in his life rather than an entire biography or something like that. Mark O'Brien used to breathe with the help of an iron lung, so he had to be given special and extra care for his daily stuff. O'Brien gets in touch with a priest, Father Brendan, after deciding to lose his virginity by means of hiring a professional sex surrogate. Cheryl Cohen Greene is someone who helps O'Brien in fulfilling his wish and the movie pretty much explores that dynamic more than anything else. Back when i found out about this movie when the line-up for Sundance was announced, like others, i was shocked to see a movie with such subject actually being made in the first place. I mean there is this basic perception about sex and sexuality that people gets really worked up with. There have been movies that either gets too obsessed with sex or are more about sex than sexuality. Its easier to look or explore the negative sides of such taboo subjects both in reality as well as how their exploration is done in the movies because of the obvious reasons. It is when the "bright side" if you will, of that very thing is the subject of a movie, we never really try to understand it and hence the main point of it is ignored because of our own lack of open-mindedness. This is largely one of the reasons why i appreciate such movies. Cinema is a way for people to experience, explore and learn things that one wont really want to otherwise.

                 John Hawkes gives an extremely effective and moving performance in the movie. His character is at the center of it and he knew how important it was for him to embody that role fully. That meant the physical transformation as well, it was an important thing. I have read what Hawkes did to get the whole aspect of a paralyzed man right. It was to a point that his spine actually moved that way but for him, it was a less pain than what most people in that situation actually goes through. John Hawkes basically had to perform by lying in there, he is in that position for the entire time in the movie but still gives and impressive performance. His face, his impressions and of course, his voice is then at the center of our attention which he nails. The fact that we don't even really know this man, his introduction is as of a challenged man. We learn how intelligent he is with what he does. His poems are brilliant to read even though they aren't perfect per say but has this grounded feel about them because they come from his heart and his very being. Through the poems and his writings for newspapers, he gets to fully live life and have a say. It is in times painful to see him struggle for the little things because of his condition. But thankfully, none of that is heightened to a point that it starts to feel manipulating and basically making us ready for a predictable weepy ending. Just by seeing those things, which is something we know he has been doing or being put up to for entire life, we very easily approve of his willingness to finally lose his virginity at the age of 38. For a man to have not been with that special person that he someday wants to be with, to have an actual relationship and fall in love and a have life, it is heartbreaking in a very subtle way to see how he can't have those things. Cheryl Cohen Greene is that person who will have sex with him but it is bound to be a more profound experience for O'Brien than it is to anyone else.

                 Helen Hunt gave one of the best female supporting performances last year in this movie. A very very very bold move, she is equally comfortable and fully involved in her performance that again, requires her to bare it all. Hunt is mostly naked in the movie, we see her in positions that none of the other actresses would be willing to be in. It is not just her bravery that is commendable here but how she makes this simple "sex surrogate" role into something bigger is what most of my praise for her goes. In that experience, Greene too takes away so much from being with this man. Its more emotional because in her job, emotions are subdued for physical pleasures for those who needs them. If we talk about how it works, she basically has rules that they have to follow throughout. There are regular exercises that are done, limited number of sessions and its where one by one, many of the stages are achieved and that is it. During that, the relation is strictly professional between her and her client. Those scenes are quite wonderfully handled by Lewin, the actors are just so ease off in them that they are actually bearable. There is no emotional or melodramatic aspect attached to those moments but just simple reality which is why they are effective. Awkward at times, sexy the others, sensual at ones and gross the others, basically that is what sex is. Never have i been moved this way by witnessing the achievement of an orgasm as in here and its not a joke. I love characters that have more dimensions than you will hope them to have. Not just your cardboard cutouts but they have more to them then it seems. Greene is that person in this movie because of the willingness of depth that is given to someone with her own sets of pathos and hurdles in her emotional life, it is a fantastic thing to witness her being there for another person with all those problems combined with a hundred more. O'Brien's wish and how dedicated he is for it and how equally realistic it seems makes it all quite spiritual in a sense.

                 William H. Macy's character however i did not actually liked in this movie. I don't know if that is how O'Brien himself saw him because this movie is an adaptation of his essay and might be his personal perception for priests? Maybe that priest actually was like that, it was deliberately done by Lewin in the movie for comical reasons or whatever. But frankly i neither like Macy's performance nor the character he plays. An awkward presence. Maybe talking to O'Brien and knowing him as a person made him to actually bring out his own kind of desires and his childish attributes? Who knows! Anyways, The Sessions is written quite very well and features good direction. The look of the movie like every other indie movie is simple and yet profound. The Sessions makes a great use of a person's desires to explore a different and quite new territory in terms of both sexuality and spirituality. Sincerely made movie that is organic because of how simply its focus is on the little things that matters. In the end, it moves you gently without going for the big moves. Its grounded in reality and Lewin's treatment of the subject with an unapologetic way because of its earnest importance in lives of the characters and us in general is excellent. Not just all this but of course, both John Hawkes and Helen Hunt gives one of their career's most resonating and wonderful performances.

Grade: B+