The Sessions

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So another swift(er) review. The Wreck-It Ralph one ran to 500 words in the end anyway. Blimey. Let’s see if we can do this a little quicker. I’ve wasted 27 already. That’s four more….

The Sessions might sound a bit of a tough ask on paper. It’s based on the real life story of Mark O’Brien, a writer and a poet who is also a polio survivor who has to spend around 20 hours a day in an iron lung in order to stay alive. He has no muscular control below the neck. Despite all of this, Mark (John Hawkes) is a charmer and a wit. Because of the results of his illness, Mark requires help with everything, and employs a number of carers to perform those roles. His life changes when he employs a new carer and falls in love with her. Unfortunately she doesn’t reciprocate, but it spurs Mark on to a journey of sexual discovery –something that may have been in the back of his mind but he never imagined he could dream of following through on. Eventually Mark employs a sexual surrogate, Cheryl (Helen Hunt, nominated for an Oscar for the role) to help him reach his desire of not dying a virgin.

The film. written and directed by polio survivor Ben Lewin (who is merely crutch-bound), is nigh on perfect. It’s life-affirming where it could have been mawkish. It’s laced with self-deprecating humour and charm where it could have been self-pitying. It’s paced beautifully and always leaves you wondering what direction it might go next. There’s no template for how this story might play out (and that’s not because it’s a true-life story – biopics have plenty of conventions and this doesn’t play up to them) which makes it all the more enthralling.

It hinges on three wonderful central performances – William H Macy as the priest who is asked plenty of awkward questions by Mark being the third – and I find it difficult to understand why John Hawkes has been overlooked at the Oscars when he puts in such a wonderfully nuanced, sympathetic (though not pathetic) and enriching performance. That said, I also find it difficult to understand why the film has been overlooked elsewhere. Granted the direction and editing do nothing flashy, but it’s not a story that demands that – what they do is allow the actors the chance to come alive on screen, to breathe and to exist – but it’s the writing that perhaps demands the greatest recognition.

Anyway, this is a great start to 2013, clocking in as better than anything in 2012 in my book. Track it down if you can, otherwise get the DVD when it comes out. Essential viewing.

10/10 (4 stars)

(I don’t think the trailer does a great job of selling the film, if only because the music is completely wrong for it – I hadn’t seen the trailer before I saw the film, and I think you would be wise to follow the same course, but, if you have to, the trailer is below)


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