Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Sessions

Yet another festival favorite from Sundance this year was "The Sessions" written and directed by Ben Lewin.  The film was inspired by the writings of Mark O'Brien and the short documentary (see below) by Jessica Yu "Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien" (1996), which won the Academy Award for best documentary short. 

While sex is at the center of the story, the film is more about how an individual gains independence.  Independence is a very tricky thing for disabled people.  It doesn't mean that they want to do everything themselves.  Independence has to do with the power being within us, and it is through Cheryl that Mark finds this power.

The film starts with Mark O'Brien's (John Hawkes) poetry and historical footage of Mark navigating his way through the streets of Berkley, California on his way to graduation with a voice over of his poem "Graduation Day".  His existence is confined by the 650-pound iron lung that encases his body and fills his chest with air. But the life he shapes inside is as vital, and as urgent, as breath.  At the age of 37, Mark O'Brien decides he no longer wishes to be a virgin. With the help of a therapist and his priest (William H. Macy), he contacts Cheryl Cohen-Greene (Helen Hunt), a professional sex surrogate.  The film follows the evolving relationship between Cheryl and Mark as she takes him on his journey to manhood through body awareness exercises and intercourse.  Along with understanding his own body, he learns about the female body and the language of sex.  His assistant Vera (Moon Bloodgood) tells him that she prefers to call it a dick, because a penis sounds like a vegetable that you don't want to eat and a dick is what it is.  Cheryl educates Mark that when you touch one breast you have to touch the other, it is sort of a rule.  The biggest rule for a professional sex surrogate is to not let the relationship become personal, however this rule is broken by both Cheryl by allowing them to have a date and by Mark who sends her a love poem.  Cheryl's home life with her son and husband offer just enough of a look into this growing conflict.
John Hawkes has become one of my favorite actors as he has built an amazing resume with recent performances in "Martha, Marcy May, Marlene", "Winter's Bone" and the TV show "East Bound and Down".  His performance captures the spirit of Mark O'Brien perfectly, which is unbelievably difficult given the lack of a physical performance and a complete reliance on his voice and facial expressions.  After watching both the documentary and the film the likeness and voice is perfect.  Mark is a warm, wickedly funny charmer that quickly wins people over. 
Helen Hunt matches John Hawkes instilling a dignity and compassion to Cheryl as she educates Mark in the ways of physical intimacy.  Those teachings tastefully deconstruct the act of sex and all the awkwardness and uncertainty that goes along with it.   She combines professionalism, playfulness, sensuality, and compassion in series of sessions which require full nudity.

Not to be forgotten are the performances from William H. Macy's as Father Brendan, who gives Mark his blessing and becomes a source of counsel, friendship, and laughs throughout the film; and Moon Bloodgood as his main caregiver in a role that requires very little emotion, but just enough life is brought into the character even though her personal life is never the focus.  Additionally, Rhea Perlman makes a brief appearance as a Mikeh Lady assisting Cheryl with her conversion to the Jewish faith providing her own perfect timing and tone.

The film incorporates the vivid imagery of O'Brien's poetry, and his candid, and wry sense of humor.  He was a dynamic voice in a paralyzed body.  It is this body that god crafted for him and that is a beautiful thing.  Both John Hawks and Helen Hunt are very deserving of a nomination as their performances carry the film to a 5 Quack rating.  The screenplay should also get some consideration for its adaptation from Mark O'Brien's writings.

Let me know what you think of the following video in the comments section.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...