Title: The Sessions
Director: Ben Lewin
The Sessions is one of those stories that can capture your interest within the first 5 minutes. Especially when going in blind to what this 95 minute piece entails (avoid trailers/previews my friends; you’ll thank me one day).
John Hawkes, a man is in his late thirties – who is unable to move any muscle in his body, save for his head, due to Polio – is basically an inspiring American story. The year is 1988, and the guy is publicly well-known for being someone who did not let his handicaps prohibit him from having a full life. He’s a gifted wordsmith and writes immaculate poetry all while picking up writing assignments at the local newspaper. Even though he maneuvered (literally) through college, despite having to spend most of his time on a gurney and in an iron lung (body chamber that helps him breathe), one aspect of life has more-or-less eluded him: Sexy time.
Hawkes clearly yearns for love-making. And he articulates these thoughts with a new priest (an always pitch perfect William H. Macy) at his local church. In candid and graphic chats, Hawkes and Macy talk about things that may go against church teachings, yet Macy can’t help to agree with Hawkes’ sound rationale. These brainstorming sessions leads to Hawkes hiring Helen Hunt – a professional sex surrogate.
Despite Hawkes’ condition, and seemingly a unique “patient” for Hunt, she professionally guides the charismatic and witty man through a number of exercises to prepare him for intercourse. Through their handful (no pun) of sessions, a physical and mental connection is erected (pun intended).
After you read the next sentence, you may think that it’s a spoiler, but trust me (always), it’s not.
When the flick climaxes, figuratively and literally (what?), about halfway through, the direction is kind of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants. But you don’t fully notice nor have this premature feeling until this wraps up. During the in-depth therapy chats between Hawkes and a fully-frontal nude Helen Hunt (please let my future ex-wife look like that at 50 years-old by the way) in hotel rooms, you’ll hang on every word they exchange (amongst other things). However, the second-half jumps around as the script surprisingly turns into a series of bullet points and/or cliff notes.
Perhaps there wasn’t else much to tell since this is based on a true account about Hawkes’ character; who ended up living eleven more years after the events depicted here. Still, Hawkes does so much with so little, and Hunt’s mannerisms place the audience in her state of mind when dealing with the emotions surrounding her current client. And during these exchanges, the script wisely, and therefore, humorously, pokes fun at the situation via Hawkes quirky persona. Plus there’s Macy involvement; which provides a nice fluffer (can’t stop) between the more-or-less sex-ed course sequences. And even the quaint Moon Bloodgod and W. Earl Brown come to life as Hawkes’ home caretakers. This cast is lubed up nicely and never misses, despite the script losing focus in the latter stages.
Overall, The Sessions is laced with gripping sequences and blessed with solid acting all the way through. But the jerky (I swear I’m done now) delivery can throw off the rhythm at the halfway mark, which ends up neutering some of its emotional hooks/investment established early on.