The Sessions

Early in Ben Lewin's wonderfully touching film The Sessions, sex surrogate Cheryl Cohen-Greene is undressing paralyzed poet / journalist Mark O'Brien when he shrieks and swears to heaven. The scene is startling because Cheryl's ministrations to that point had been tender and enticing. Soon it becomes clear that O'Brien's yelp was not from physical pain but fear of the intimacy he desired so badly. He's conflicted, trapped by polio in an inert body, only able to move his head. He hires the surrogate so that he might experience lovemaking because, as he says, at 38 he's past his "sell by" date. The terrific screenplay was written by Lewin and based on an essay "On Seeing A Sex Surrogate" written by the real O'Brien, who died in 1999 at the age of 49. As played by the luminescent Helen Hunt (Mad About You, As Good As It Gets) and the extraordinary character actor John Hawkes (Deadwood, Lincoln), these two people become much more to each other (and to the audience) than therapist and client. They are -- as O'Brien's priest and confessor (William H. Macy) says -- companions on a journey of discovery, one that is by turns illuminating, joyful, humbling and, in the end, truly and honestly painful. Enormously human, this is an adult film that deals frankly with sexuality. Highly recommended.


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