(director/writer: Ben Lewin; screenwriter: based on the autobiography article “On Seeing a Sex Surrogate” of Mark O’Brien; cinematographer: Geoffrey Simpson; editor: Lisa Bromwell; music: Marco Beltrami; cast: John Hawkes (Mark), Helen Hunt (Cheryl Cohen Greene), William H. Macy (Father Brendan), Moon Bloodgood (Vera), Annika Marks (Amanda), Rhea Perlman (Mikvah Lady), Jennifer Kumiyama (Carmen), W. Earl Brown (Rod), Adam Arkin (Josh, the jealous philosopher husband), Robin Weigert (Susan, volunteer worker), Blake Lindsley (Dr. Laura White, sex therapist), Ming Lo (Motel Clerk); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Judi Levine/Stephen Nemeth/Ben Lewin; Fox Searchlight; 2012)

The uplifting struggle for living a life of dignity for paralyzed from the neck down polio victim Mark O’Brien.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The uplifting struggle for living a life of dignity for paralyzed from the neck down polio victim Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes), a Berkeley, California, resident, a devout Catholic, and a poet and journalist, confined to living in an iron lung since he contacted the disease at age six. Mark died in 1999 at the age of 49. The Sessions is based on Mark’s autobiographical article “On Seeing a Sex Surrogate,” that was published in 1990 in the literary magazine The Sun. Directed with insight and compassion by Polish-born filmmaker Ben Lewin(“Hollywood Gold”/”Georgia”/”Paperback Romance”), a polio survivor himself. If you ever wanted to know how a sex surrogate for the handicapped operates and how valuable they can be toward their vulnerable clients well-being, this pic says it all.

It begins with polio victim Mark attending The University of California, at Berkeley, in a motorized gurney and with the English major graduating in 1978. In 1988, the 38-year-old virgin, residing in Berkeley, decides that he must get laid to ensure his manhood and consults Father Brendan (William H. Macy) for permission and support. The two will develop a close relationship and will frequently meet in the back of the church to talk things over in a confessional manner, as Mark respects the kind-hearted priest’s honest opinions and observant counseling. Even though confined for most of the day to his iron lung, so he can breath, Mark hooks up with sex surrogate Cheryl (Helen Hunt) and begins a poignant and touching scheduled for six sessions of therapy.

The sex scenes are handled in the most sensitive and realistic manner, better than in any other film of this type. Hawkes and Hunt give amazing realistic performances that are intense, witty, amusing and simply marvelous. It’s a rare film that will not easily be forgotten, and one that genuinely touches the heart and makes one reflect on what makes a person human and have a need for a guilt-free spiritual life. It also takes time out to show how Hunt’s demanding job affects her married life and her role as a mother of a teenage son. In a supporting role as one of Mark’s better attendants, Moon Bloodgood gives a fine subdued performances as the caring health provider who wheels him around town while he’s in a gurney.

HJ12 A153_C015_0526WN_001.0001619.tif

REVIEWED ON 11/15/2012 GRADE: A-