Monday, December 17, 2012

Movie with Abe: The Sessions

The Sessions
Directed by Ben Lewin
Released October 19, 2012

John Hawkes is most certainly a character actor. After establishing himself over the past decade and a half as an eccentric supporting player usually cast in odd bit parts, Hawkes broke out in 2005 for a starring turn in “Me and You and Everyone We Know” and earned his first Oscar nomination for playing against type as the fearsome Teardrop in “Winter’s Bone.” Hawkes’ latest role is quite possibly his best, a wonderful interpretation of a real-life poet confined to an iron lung seeking his first-ever sexual interpretation in this sweet and moving drama.

Hawkes is known for his distinctive speaking style, and here his voice is almost unrecognizable, transformed into a soft, higher-pitched, friendly tone. As Mark O’Brien, who was paralyzed by polio as a child and later confined to an iron lung for most of his life, Hawkes projects a marvelous sense of decency, using humor in many situations to make the best of his physical state. It’s hard not to like Mark, who becomes both especially talkative and especially nervous when his first meeting with a sex surrogate named Cheryl, played by Helen Hunt, is approaching. He’s a perfectly endearing lead character, so positive and optimistic despite the certainty and permanence of his situation.

Hawkes is the standout member of the cast, quietly commanding the film, but he’s ably supported by the entire ensemble. Hunt delivers her first award-worthy film performance in fifteen years, when she won an Oscar for “As Good As It Gets,” making Helen entirely open and honest, matching Mark’s bluntness with a productive attitude towards sex and its potential effects. William H. Macy is enormously entertaining as Father Brendan, the priest who becomes close with Mark after he consults him about the religious ethics of trying to lose his virginity out of wedlock. Moon Bloodgood and Annika Marks are also strong as two of Mark’s devoted attendants.

It’s easy to like “The Sessions” because of how Mark sees the world, narrating his life with energy and a smile. His encounters with Cheryl are laced with nervous humor, and they feel authentic because of the dynamic, straightforward interactions between Mark and Cheryl. This is first and foremost Mark’s story, and it’s clear that he affected the lives of so many around him with his upbeat nature and kindness. “The Sessions” captures that superbly, and, by film’s end, audiences will certainly feel connected to this marvelous character and this charming excerpt from his life.


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