The Sessions

November 12, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment
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I have a particular weakness for movies that can explore the vulnerability and nobility of humanity outside of the standard Hollywood narrative while also upending simplistic cultural assumptions about right & wrong, good & bad.  While not as powerful as films like “Shortbus” or “Weekend,” this movie still explored these issues with a bravery uncommon to Hollywood.  John Hawkes (“Me And You And Everyone We Know,” the HBO series “Deadwood,” “Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene”) plays Mark O’Brien, a man virtually paralyzed by Polio, who seeks the services of a sexual surrogate, played by Helen Hunt, to help him work through his issues and lose his virginity.  What could have been trite, condescending, or adolescent, comes across with a sort of grace that is transcendent for all the characters involved and deeply moving to the audience.  While, Hawkes will get (and deserve) much praise for transforming himself so much he is almost unrecognizable and for the humor he brings to his character, it is Hunt who anchors the movie.  She has a sort of fearlessness in this role that is worthy of an Oscar nod, as she has to be either physically or emotionally naked most of the time she is on screen.  It is through her eyes that we gain access to the human being who lies beneath O’Brien’s well-defended comedian exterior.  The film deftly avoids all the feel-good pitfalls I worried were coming and favors a sort of truth over easy answers.  My one criticism, and it is a big one, sadly, is that director Ben Lewin’s (mostly known for tv work) lack of big-screen experience showed.  The cinematography was bland, unimaginative, and added no depth.  Worse, the audience was saddled with a deadly voice over from Hawkes and, even worse, scenes of Hunt talking into her tape recorder.  It frustrates me when a director does not trust his actors (particularly those as talented as this cast) to show what they are feeling rather than force them to say it.  All that was said in these expositions was also present in so many more subtle ways; I wish Lewin had trusted the connection between audience and actors more than he apparently did.  That said, I loved this film. I loved it’s courage (in narrative and acting) and I loved the journey it took me on.


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