Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Sessions

The Sessions (originally titled The Surrogate) is a 2012 American independent drama film written and directed by Ben Lewin. It is based on the true story of Mark O'Brien, a poet paralyzed from the neck down due to polio who hired a sex surrogate to lose his virginity. John Hawkes and Helen Hunt star as O'Brien and sex surrogate Cheryl Cohen Greene respectively. The film debuted at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award (U.S. Dramatic) and a U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Ensemble Acting. Fox Searchlight Pictures acquired the film's distribution rights and will release the film in 2012.
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One sure way to tell that "The Sessions" is bound to be an exceptional movie is that the subject of it sounds like nothing anyone would want to see. The story of a man in an iron lung who decides that he wants to experience sex could not have gotten funding on its premise alone. Obviously, there had to be something there, and there is. "The Sessions" is moving. At times, it's even erotic, which is unexpected, to say the least. It sends viewers out of the theater with a heightened sense of the physical and a real feeling for all the things that sex means in human life. "The Sessions" goes beyond what movies usually deal with when they talk about love - attraction, the mating dance, the happily-ever-after. It's about people's most basic need to connect, express and feel through sexuality. The film is raw and adult and, in the least somber way imaginable, unusually dignified.

Based on the real-life story of Mark O'Brien, a Bay Area poet and journalist who died in 1999, it dramatizes a period in the 1980s when, at 38, O'Brien hired a sex therapist. Among the ancillary revelations of "The Sessions," for those of us previously in ignorance, is that hands-on sex therapy is nothing like prostitution. Part therapist, part sex partner, part life coach, the therapist (Helen Hunt) ministers to a severely disabled patient and makes him feel as if he's part of the world. She helps bring him into the world. If anything, this is like missionary work. John Hawkes plays the entire role on his back. (You might find yourself turning your head sideways to get a look at his face.) As played by Hawkes, O'Brien is a sweet and witty person, who wants to get as much out of life as he can.
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