The Sessions [Blu-Ray] Ben Lewin

The Sessions [Blu-Ray] Ben Lewin
6
Much like its subject, Mark O'Brien (a man imprisoned in his own mind by polio), The Sessions errs on the side of uplifting charm to compensate for, and distract from, its limitations. Based on O'Brien's article about his experiences with a sex surrogate, this slice of the 38-year-old virgin's life is meant to be inspirational and comical, with a dusting of sadness. And to a point, it is, but that comes at the expense of painting a three-dimensional portrait of a real person. Because he masks his suffering with such a thick coating of sarcasm, it's difficult to get a grasp on how it feels inside his linguistic and physical (he spends most of his life inside an iron lung),armour. Director/screenwriter Ben Lewin isn't particularly interested in finding out — acknowledging O'Brien's anxiety and insecurity about achieving physical intimacy, which is as much due to his catholic faith as it is his disability, is enough. Lewin's narrative starts with the beginning of the disarming poet's relationship with his priest. Seeking approval to fire his socially and physically unpleasant female attendant, O'Brien (John Hawkes) confesses that his urge might have been nothing more than a power trip. The compassionate and understanding Father Brendan (William H. Macy) gives his blessing all the same, feeling that someone dealt such an unfortunate hand (never mind that it's a miracle he's survived as long as he has) gets a few exemptions for activities usually frowned upon by the big guy (flying spaghetti monster?) upstairs. This off-the-record empathy becomes the norm for their relationship, and so O'Brien feels confident enough to seek the services of a sexual therapist, after a few attempts at unpaid romance don't exactly yield favourable results. Enter Helen Hunt, in a brave performance (read: labia-baring) as Cheryl Cohen Greene. Their sessions are the crux of the film, but Lewin can't resist emphasizing the emotional bond that forms, despite such entanglement being the biggest no-no in the sexual surrogacy profession. It fits with his movie-of-the-week approach to directing: plain, clumsily framed shots and little thematic reinforcement through imagery. All the same, John Hawkes' performance draws the most attention, and rightly so; he's very committed to the role. Hunt, on the other hand, is a bit tough to take seriously, with a roving Boston accent that doesn't seem intentional and little other than comfort with nudity and sexuality giving her character shape. The special features on this relatively sparse Blu-Ray don't add much insight, with two deleted scenes that absolutely needed to be cut, and a section of typical cast and crew interviews, with a smattering of behind-the-scenes footage, oddly titled "Theatrical Featurettes." It's a little amusing though, to watch Moon Bloodgood politically correct herself after mentioning how special it is that Ben Lewin is disabled himself — "not that it's a big deal." Still, it would have been interesting to know more about the real life of Mark O'Brien and whether or not the mini-Deadwood reunion (Hawkes, W. Earl Brown, Robin Weigert) was intentional. (Fox)