DIR: Ben Lewin WRI: PRO: Judi Levine, Ben Lewin, Stephen Nemeth DOP: Geoffrey Simpson ED: Lisa Bromwell DES:John Mott Cast: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt
Polio has left poet and journalist Mark O’Brien, 38, paralysed from the neck down. An iron lung assists his breathing but confines him to his room for much of the time. His condition leaves him dependent on the various female attendants that help him. He finds Amanda attractive and tells her that he loves her. She leaves. He confides in his parish priest, Fr Brendan, who suggests seeing a therapist. Commissioned to write an article on the subject of sex and people with disabilities, he sets about interviewing people and gets in touch with a sex therapist. He decides to hire a sex surrogate, Cheryl Cohen Greene, to lose his virginity. So begins their six sessions.
Playing a paralysed character limits an actor in his range of gestures and challenges him to work mostly with facial expressions and their voice. John Hawkes, as Mark, excels and delivers on the potential displayed in supporting roles in Winter’s Bone and Martha Marcy May Marlene.
Helen Hunt, an Oscar® winner for As Good as It Gets, playing Cheryl, delivers a performance that better merits such an accolade.
Polio left writer-director Ben Lewin using crutches from age sex. He demonstrates deftness in writing and a lightness of touch in directing a film that balances sentiment and surprising humour. His handling of sex scenes and frank dialogue is tasteful and mature.
Lewin’s weakness is a tendency to explain the obvious, particularly in scenes in which Cheryl records her thoughts on a Dictaphone. This talky approach often reveals insights that the actors, in their skilful performances, already suggested. However, Lewin makes the most of cinematic treatment, framing the film mostly in close-ups that emphasise visually the intimate nature of the subject matter.
Wanting to explore the subject matter for a sitcom, Lewin came upon a 1990 article written by Mark O’Brien for the American magazine, The Sun. He has crafted a light-hearted, charming film that offers a take on sexual experience, and the world, that few people might imagine.
The Sessions screens exclusively at the IFI
The Sessions is released on 18th January 2013