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An extraordinary account of sexual exploration and intimacy against the odds, The Sessions is a powerful achievement. John Hawkes gives a courageous performance as poet Mark O’Brien, a man crippled by polio and forced to live his life in an iron lung. When invited to research a story about sexual therapy for the disabled, Mark retains the services of sex surrogate Cheryl Cohen Greene (Helen Hunt), but not before appealing for permission from his priest (an affable William H. Macy).
Australian writer-director Ben Lewin drew on his own experiences with polio to craft a tale that is both delicately lovely and refreshingly matter-of-fact. Much will be made of Helen Hunt’s “brave” nudity, but looking past that, her characterisation of a resolutely private and chipper therapist who allows herself to experience intimacy with Mark is a true triumph. And similarly, this is another must-see turn from Hawkes, whose remarkable physical transformation is matched by his wonderful comic timing and emotional vulnerability.
A hit from the Sundance Film Festival, The Sessions should be remembered come Oscar season. So even if the supporting characters feel rather slight, a cinema session with Hawkes and Hunt is well worth your time.