Thursday, November 15, 2012

"The Sessions" Isn't Worthy of Awards, but It Is Worth a Watch

The Sessions- Written and directed by Ben Lewin, starring John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, and William H. Macy - Rated R

The Sessions is one of those movies with a vague title that suddenly appears and, in this case, garners immense critical adoration.  I’ll be honest; I was completely unaware of this movie until I saw mentions of Oscars for stars John Hawkes and Helen Hunt.  That’s never a good thing for someone like me.  If the first thing I hear about a movie is that it deserves awards, I become suspicious.  Shouldn’t the movie be able to sell tickets on its own without sounding the awards trumpets?  Also, a movie seems like Oscar bait if all I know about it is who is in it and that they should get trophies.  Despite that off-putting introduction to The Sessions, I ended up really enjoying the film.
The plot of The Sessions definitely seems like Oscar bait as well.  It’s the story of Mark O’Brien, a man who lives most of his days in an iron lung, and his quest to lose his virginity.  A guy in an iron lung has sex.  We’ve got a disability, based on a true story, and it is a unique subject.  Yeah, I see why the awards are being mentioned, but this is not about winning awards, not by a long shot.  First off, this is not a life story.  We are told through narration and old footage that Mark has accomplished many things despite his condition, and has established himself as a poet/writer.  If this were a life story, it would have started at his birth, and ended with him writing a poem or something from his iron lung.  That might have been touching or whatever, but it would not be enjoyable.  Thankfully, The Sessions is about a specific moment in O’Brien’s life when he decided to look into sex amongst the disabled population, and wanted to experience it for himself.
The story is interesting and never delves into melodrama, but what elevates it is Hawkes’s performance.  As a physical performance, it is impressive in that he has to basically lie prone the entire film and be carried around and helped.  It must have been trying to lie around like that throughout the shoot.  More impressive is the voice Hawkes used for the film.  I have never heard the real O’Brien speak, but Hawkes truly sounded like a Bostonian who had a reduced lung capacity. 
Helen Hunt plays the “sex surrogate,” and she does that Helen Hunt thing that she does just fine.  I just can’t really consider her an actress because she just seems to be the same character in everything that she does.  Plus, her forehead is distractingly smooth.  I don’t know what’s going on there, but it’s not natural. 
William H. Macy was a bright spot in the film as a priest who befriends O’Brien.  His scenes led to the most humor as Macy got to run the gamut of facial expressions as he heard O’Brien’s blunt confessions. 
The Sessions, for all its Oscar possibilities, ended up being surprisingly insubstantial.  I enjoyed it and thought the performances were fine, but nothing about it stuck with me.  It’s not that I need a message to a film, but I do like to feel something when I’m supposed to, but everything in this film was light hearted and trivial.  There was no emotional payoff, and it seemed like the filmmakers wanted me to tear up at the end or something.  Maybe I’m missing the point.  Perhaps it’s simply meant to be a feel good movie.  If that’s the case, I felt fine after seeing The Sessions.  I wouldn’t give it any trophies, though. 

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