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Sexual Healing: The Sessions is a great story, but just an okay film

 

 
Overview
 

Genre:
 
Starring: , ,
 
Directed By:
 
Studio: , ,
 
MPAA Rating:
 
Release Date: November 16, 2012
 
Length: 95 minutes
 
Directing
7.5


 
Plot
7.5


 
Acting
9.0


 
Cinematography
7.5


 
Total Score
7.9
7.9/ 10


 

Whoa


It is a very good story that strikes a balance between button-pushing issues.

No


It isn’t as compelling as Breathing Lessons, an Academy award-winning 1996 documentary that addressed O'Brien's life much more viscerally.


Bottom Line

Based on “On Seeing a Sex Surrogate,” the article Mark O’Brien wrote for Sun magazine in May 1990, The Sessions isn’t as compelling as Breathing Lessons, an Academy award-winning 1996 documentary that addressed this story much more viscerally. In The Sessions, O’Brien (John Hawkes) deals with sexual issues. Because polio has left much of his body […]

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Posted December 18, 2012 by

 
Full Review
 
 

Based on “On Seeing a Sex Surrogate,” the article Mark O’Brien wrote for Sun magazine in May 1990, The Sessions isn’t as compelling as Breathing Lessons, an Academy award-winning 1996 documentary that addressed this story much more viscerally. In The Sessions, O’Brien (John Hawkes) deals with sexual issues. Because polio has left much of his body immobile, it’s not easy for him to copulate. In an effort to lose his virginity, O’Brien hires a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) to introduce him to the art of making love.

As a writer, and as a person with a disability (18 years with MS), I imagine my feelings about The Sessions are a lot like the filmmaker’s – there are multiple themes that I find difficult to balance and prioritize. I imagine that writer-director Ben Lewin had to balance many different objectives: to tell a good story, to make money and to portray characters with authenticity in relation to the people on which they are based.

And as a writer, I think it is a very good, and compelling, story. It makes me wonder if the protagonist, Mark O’Brien, will experience a posthumous resurgence as a writer. The film certainly highlights – and enhances, with cinematic devices – some of his best achievements, including the pivotal “Love Poem for No One in Particular.” The acting – John Hawkes as O’Brien, Helen Hunt as Cheryl Cohen Greene, William H. Macy as confidant Father Brendan – is stellar. I found it – largely, I think, due to my own issues with disability – to be an emotional experience. But, as a critic, I don’t think The Sessions is a great film.

“Honest” is not synonymous with “unflinching.” No need to use words like “unflinching” – the film doesn’t take a vérité perspective on the issues of nudity, sexuality, disability, hangups, etc. I think the most important achievement of The Sessions is the balance that it strikes between button-pushing issues. Sex surrogacy-meets-severe disability-meets-Catholic Church. Sounds like a recipe for one disastrous dinner party. Just add politics.

My favorite parts of The Sessions were the humorous moments: of course, when confronted with themes of sexuality and disability (not to mention Catholicism,et al) that can cause, or evoke, discomfort, a palatable resource is humor. A spoonful of chuckle makes the message go down, to paraphrase Mary Poppins.

In The Sessions‘ use of cinematic vocabulary – acting, editing, directing, sound, et al – Lewin does turn a lens on humanity. He universalizes the struggle of people with disabilities – his accomplishment is to bring light to the darkness. It is the affirmation of human dignity, bringing disability and normalcy closer together.

What’s key about the film is the dialogue it encourages. We have a long way to go in reconciling the sexuality of people with disabilities. We have a long way to go in accepting people with disabilities, period.


Mark

 
Mark Woodlief wrote for the cool '90s magazines that didn't make it – Option, Raygun, Warp, The (Seattle) Rocket, CMJ – plus some daily and weekly newspapers, too. Seeing all the great bands – Mission of Burma, Husker Du, Volcano Suns, Flaming Lips, Wire, the dBs, the Feelies, Patti Smith, ad infinitum – he has seen has left him Whopperjawed.


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