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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

The Sessions | Helen Hunt, John Hawkes, William H. Macy, Moon Bloodgood | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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The Sessions | Helen Hunt, John Hawkes, William H. Macy, Moon Bloodgood | Review

Here’s an Academy Award-caliber true tale, brought to life by the extraordinary acting talents of Helen Hunt and John Hawkes – of a 38 year old man who purposely sheds his virginity with the help of a sex therapist.  Not so unusual you might think, except he is severely disabled by polio and sleeps in an iron lung, unable to sit up, dress, or feed himself.

Hunt and Hawkes portray real-life counterparts, Cheryl Cohen Greene and Mark O’Brien, respectively.  Their scenes together generate vulnerability, awkwardness, professionalism, helplessness, dignity, and desire. Greene’s experience and O’Brien’s determination form a sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes humorous, often poignant relationship that changes both their lives.

Mark is accomplished and degreed.  He depends on electricity and kind assistants, one of whom he asks to marry (Annika Marks) ensuring her abandonment.  Showing the same determination it took to complete his degree, Mark puts his mind to accomplishing the carnal.  He can only be out of the iron lung that breathes for him for a few hours a day.

With a painfully twisted spine, haunting eyes, and wicked sense of humor, he proceeds to consult his local priest, Father Brendan (William H. Macy) a hip, long-haired cleric about his “needs.”  Father Brendan is extremely supportive in his sexual counseling of Mark, although with a vow of celibacy he has no proof of purchase himself.

Mark contacts therapist Cheryl Cohen Greene, initiating a series of several sexually-based sessions with her, the first of which is almost painful to watch in its awkward interplay between the two.  Mark’s current assistant Vera (Moon Bloodgood) dutifully waits for her boss and cares for him outside of the sessions, in a matter-of-fact way that does him good.

Cheryl is a married mom with a sullen teen son and a marriage full of underlying tension because of what she does for a living.  Matters get complicated with Mark’s sessions when personal feelings extend beyond professional services.

Hunt’s nuanced facial expressions speak volumes more than the clinical nudity required of the performance.  A compassionate practicality fills uncomfortable silences until what’s left is a pure, distilled performance of grace and skill.

Transforming Hawkes into O’Brien visually entails considerable physical challenges but again, it’s the face that captures attention more than the twisted body.  Hawkes’ transcendent talent renders O’Brien’s limitations as secondary, and the whole person shines through.  He’s no one to be pitied, either.

Writer/Director Ben Lewin (Georgia) helms a forthright exploration of sexuality, dignity, and self-determination, based on the autobiographical writings of journalist/poet Mark O'Brien.  The Sessions is a window into his world which we would otherwise never see, and it fascinates with a poignant curiosity.  Lewin makes us look where others would rather look away, and takes us on O’Brien’s journey to maximize the quality of his life.

I mean absolutely no disrespect by stating that it was quite a ride.

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