The Sessions: A Sexual Conversation

John Hawkes and Helen Hunt in Ben Lewin's Film

By: - Oct 19, 2012

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The Sessions with John Hawkes and Helen Hunt opens this week in limited release. The daring subject matter of therapeutic sex therapy is beautifully realized.  
Director and writer Ben Lewin, who is disabled himself, found an article by the poet Mark O’Brien, a man crippled by childhood polio who sought out a sex surrogate to help him experience life more fully.  Talking to three women in O’Brien’s life, the surrogate, a caretaker and his late life love, Lewin weaves a funny, brave picture of disability.  Humor and an absurdist’s angle help make life particularly  livable.  

In the post discussion, many questions were raised, but curiously the biggest one, which concerns Hunt’s unbelievably compelling turn, often in full monty, was not mentioned once.   I tried to frame a question and could not.  My stunned silence rose from respect and admiration for Hunt who spends much time comfortably naked.

Outside the theater, where stragglers were eager to continue talking about the film, Lewin addressed Hunt.   Someone of Hunt’s caliber, he explained,reads many scripts.  From time to time, she closes the binder after the last line and says, “I am going to do this.”  Asking of herself what to most of us would be impossible, she is exquisite.  

Surrogate sex sessions are between Hawkes, a man can neither breathe, nor sit, and Hunt, his sensitive paid partner, who explains to him the difference between prostitution and surrogacy.  Like the Intouchables where two characters, one numb from the neck down and his caretaker, make you forget everything except who these people are and how they relate, we are riveted on the developing human relationship between Mark and Cheryl.  

A snappy Oriental caretaker who is frank about everything in life intrigues.  William H. Macy as a Catholic priest whose great insight into life is one sentence long, hears O’Brien’s confessions near the narthex of a church where other parishioners seem undisturbed by the rollicking sexual reports.  Macy’s face has never been more expressive.  

Hyde Park on the Hudson will be released in December.  FDR was also crippled and had a sex life with many of the women (this film features his fifth cousin) around him.   As Bill Murray (FDR) is carried from chair to car, with his legs completely stiff and unmovable, you wonder exactly how this took place.  There is a brief suggestion of a hand job in a car.  

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s close relationships with women are not attractive, although perhaps his disability makes them somewhat easier to understand than JFK’s in and out, one time only seductions (with the apparent exception of Mimi Beardsley).  JFK of course was disabled by Addison's disease.  Sex in the presidents' lives look like a way to disengage.  In The Sessions there is a complete engagement.

Mark O’Brien may teach men in his position and in fact, all men, what women really want in their partners, even if Presidents past do not.  A touching, funny film about a difficult subject.

Both lead performers are on a short list for Academy Awards.  So too is Bill Murray as FDR.
Terrific films to end the year.