London Film Festival 2012: The Sessions - Review
Review by Rob Carnevale
TAKEN at face value The Sessions isn’t an easy attraction given it’s difficult, even uncomfortable story.
But thanks to some sensitive direction and some tremendous performances it emerges as an empowering piece of cinema that amuses and inspires even if it does still leave you sitting awkwardly at times.
Based on a true story, the film follows the fortunes of a man named Mark (John Hawkes), a 38-year-old who has been confined to an iron lung since contracting polio at the age of six. Up until this point, though, Mark has been able to lead a reasonably fulfilling life as a poet and writer until his latest assignment on sex and disability forces him to confront his own sexual desires.
Hence, with the blessing of his friend and priest (William H Macy) Mark engages a sex surrogate named Cheryl (Helen Hunt) whose services are limited to six sessions and who will help him make the transition to sexual activity.
Ben Lewin’s film is actually based upon the autobiographical writings of Mark O’Brien and is all the more remarkable for it given its basis in truth.
But it would equally have been a difficult film to get wrong given its potential for mis-managing the comedy as well as the sex and nudity.
By taking a bold approach to both, however, Lewin has delivered a fearless piece of work that isn’t afraid to confront the emotional and physical complexities of what’s at play but which also isn’t afraid to make you laugh with the characters rather than at their expense.
It’s a very human piece of work that places character at the forefront. Hawkes is amazing, offsetting charisma with insecurity, while Hunt is fearless, tapping into the conflicted emotions she eventually feels in authentic, unshowy fashion.
You could argue that the film does her a disservice by making her the only one of the two to appear completely nude but Lewin may well argue that this speaks more to the attitudes of their respective characters to it.
William H Macy also deserves credit for the portrayal of the priest, a similarly conflicted man in many ways given the implications of his own religious oath, but someone who is able to consistently be upbeat and encouraging to his friend while only hinting at any angst with a sly look of despair.
At a time when disability awareness and rights are more in the news than ever, The Sessions further deserves praise for shining a spotlight on another little known story of triumph over adversity.
It’s a charming, even poignant film that does inspire and which looks certain to feature prominently in the upcoming awards season.
Running time: 97mins
UK Release Date: January 18, 2013
London Film Festival Dates: Tuesday, October 16 (OWE2); Wednesday, October 17 (Vue5)