Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Sessions

The poster for The Sessions hawks it as being "destined to be a player at the Academy Awards," pointing, it would seem, to John Hawkes's portrayal of a man confined by polio overcoming his physical restrictions and reaching out to the world. The A.V. Club's review puts it best: "While his role feels like an import from an Oscar-bait prestige picture, the film around him has different aims. It’s funny and overtly sexual, rather than serious and stuffy, and it’s supremely uninterested in Oscar-esque gravitas."

Hawkes plays the real-life, now-passed poet and journalist Mark O'Brien, who, as a forty-year-old, engaged the services of a sex surrogate (played by Helen Hunt). The Sessions is based on O'Brien's 1990 article "On Seeing A Sex Surrogate," which you can read here.

The frankness of the subject matter could possibly deter the bashful, but know that there's nothing quite prurient about The Sessions. Here's the New York Times on that issue:
Arriving in a culture steeped in titillation, prurience and pornographic imagery, “The Sessions” is a pleasant shock: a touching, profoundly sex-positive film that equates sex with intimacy, tenderness and emotional connection instead of performance, competition and conquest. There are moments between the client and his surrogate that are so intensely personal that your first instinct may be to avert your eyes. But the actors’ lighthearted rapport allows you to rejoice unashamedly in their characters’ pleasure.
Whether or not The Sessions deserves its Oscar destiny on account of John Hawkes's portrayal of someone who doesn't get around as easily as you or I (which the Academy apparently loves) or on account of its own merits is unclear and unimportant. But if Oscar gold is important to you, it's worth noting that O'Brien as a subject won the Oscar for documentary short in 1996. You can watch that doc, Breathing Lessons, here.

- Andrew

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