For a man as multifaceted as Mark O’Brien, a polio-ridden paralysed poet, The Sessions is an awfully one dimensional film that doesn’t evolve into much more than a slight and endearing run-of-the-mill melodrama.
Based off the optimistic autobiographical writings of O’Brien, director and screenwriter Ben Lewin returns to filmmaking (after a 18 year hiatus) with a story about a 38-year-old journalist who wishes to finally loose his virginity.
Albeit paralyzed, Mark (played by the immensely talented John Hawkes) remains hopeful and positive, putting faith in Father Brendan (a long and shaggy haired understanding priest played by William H. Macy) and a hired sex surrogate (played by Helen Hunt) to satisfy his lifelong sexual desires. Exploring the long and winding road of sexuality, The Sessions attempts to walk the tightrope between comedy and drama. The juggling act of effectively balancing and seamlessly interweaving the two genres is a daunting task.
When Hawkes and Macy share screen time the comedic elements thrive. Especially when the sunny and quick-witted O’Brien propels Father Brendan into wrangling between providing either religious (ideologically grounded) aid or pragmatic (every man) advice. Hunt delivers a noteworthy performance as a private woman attempting to sexually develop her patient. As the two advance their relationship, despite only meeting six times, they begin to form genuine feelings for one another.
Ingrained more in melancholy than bliss, The Sessions’ didn’t pull at my emotional chords – despite the irresistible kindness and elation Mark emits. Charming as Lewin’s script may be, the end result provides little more than underwhelming sentiments filled with indifference and frustration. All of which were followed by the realisation that this is exactly the type of crowd-pleasing fodder we perpetually overhype.
However, while it’s more an afterthought, by the story’s conclusion (which abruptly dissipates) the narrative suggests that at some point in all of our lives, each of us will find someone to love. Living in a world where cynicism has ostensibly infected a majority of people breathing, it’s rather uplifting to contemplate such an idea. Whether or not we hold onto that companion when finally found is something of another discussion.