Written by Yue Jie
Directed by: Ben Lewin
Running time: 95 minutes
Classification: R21 – Sexual Content
Release date: 24 January 2013
“Although the aim is for us to have sex, I’m not a prostitute.”
To kick this off, I have not seen any other film that has as much sex as this, where the plot is driven by sex quite literally. Based on the article “On Seeing a Sex Surrogate” by Mark O’Brien, The Sessions tells the experiences of a poet suffering from polio, as he hires a sex surrogate to help lose his virginity, albeit to inevitable emotional side effects. Written and directed by Ben Lewin (Georgia, 1988), Lewin is also a polio survivor himself.
John Hawkes stars as Mark, the 38-year-old who is paralysed from neck down and survives in an iron lung. He leads his mundane life everyday being pushed around by his attendant as he goes to church and befriends Carmen (Jennifer Kumiyama), a fellow disabled. This occurs for years until one day, Mark gets a call about a sex therapy that he is invited to participate in. He seeks the therapist’s help to fulfill his desire of losing his virginity and is, in turn, referred to a sex surrogate, one who will come to be the main change in his life. Being strapped to his bed all the time, Hawkes plays Mark convincingly, giving a sense of assurance in his voice.
Writer, director and Academy Award-winning actress Helen Hunt (Then She Found Me, 2007) plays Cheryl Cohen-Greene, the sex surrogate willing to help Mark have sex for the first time. At nearly 50, Hunt appears in the nude for most of the screen time and viewers would be pleased to know she isn’t an eyesore. Mark and Cheryl are scheduled to have up to 6 sessions together, with each session targeted to help Mark gradually overcome his fear of premature ejaculation, with which he has no control over, and eventually achieve sexual pleasure.
Along the way, both Mark and Cheryl approach guidebooks on sex and genitalia separately each night after every session and prior to the next session, an ironic coincidence. This serves as a form of sexual education on top of the constant sex in The Sessions and Cheryl’s family is either really ignorant about her occupation or unusually nonchalant about it. Stripping down for all to see and still being able to remain calm and sympathetic onscreen, Hunt is indeed worthy of her Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.
William H. Macy (The Deal, 2008) plays Father Brendan, the priest whom Mark visits to have occasional chats about life. Despite his religious authority, Father Brendan isn’t as holy as he should be, as he smokes and encourages Mark to lose his virginity after deciding that he really desires to. Moon Bloodgood (Bedrooms, 2010) plays Vera, Mark’s attendant who takes care of his daily needs after Mark fires his initial attendant when he realises that she thinks he needs her more than she needs him.
Having gone through polio, Lewin’s vision of The Sessions is undeniably as accurate as possible as he puts himself in Mark’s shoes. However, the material he touches on and the sensitivity of the topic is unfortunately a little over the top, as not everyone can actually relate to it.
As much as it is about business, emotions are bound to arise in issues of sexuality and Cheryl finds herself in a predicament which she tries to draw the line in. I’ll leave you to figure out the outcome. For what it’s worth, this indie drama tries to capture viewers’ emotions by the eventual passing of Mark in the final act and leaves viewers to decide whether or not to sympathise in Mark’s situation at all.
Check out the trailer below!