The Sessions is based on an essay by poet and Berkley graduate Mark O’Brien entitled, ‘On Seeing a Sex Surrogate’.
The film depicts the life of Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes), who, after suffering from polio at age six, has been left paralysed from the neck down, forced to spend the majority of his days in an iron lung to keep him breathing and only being moved around in a gurney for a few hours each day.
At age 38, Mark decides it is a good time to lose his virginity and with the support of his priest and confidant, Father Brendan (William H. Macy), assistant Vera (Moon Bloodgood) and various friends, Mark hires professional sex surrogate Cheryl (Helen Hunt).
Through Mark’s search to learn about sex and relationships, the other characters and the audience learn themselves from Mark about the struggles of having a disability and how this may or may not affect chances at romantic relationships.
John Hawkes gives a wondrous performance as Mark, exuding an electrifying energy, made more impressive by how physically limited his character is. His character is what holds the film together with his fun-loving, engaging demeanour making him instantly likeable allowing the audience to not feel bad about laughing with him.
Cheryl and Father Brendan also add life to the film as they each show the unseen sides to their professions. Helen Hunt’s Cheryl shows that professional sex surrogacy is not some form of prostitution as some may assume but a supportive, loving role that someone can take to better a person’s life.
Also, William H. Macy gives a very unexpected yet likeable role as a Priest who openly encourages Mark’s journey, showing a more accepting side to strict religion. The Sessions is surprisingly a laugh-out-loud type of film and writer and director, Ben Lewis, manages to portray a tender subject matter with great care and dignity. A moving and honest film, The Sessions is a definite must-see.