LFF Review: The Sessions

I’d heard a lot of other film critics across the pond raving about this, saying it was probably the best film they’d seen at Sundance, this year. So it was marked high on my list of things to see, while covering the London Film Festival. I can confirm that I really enjoyed The Sessions. It’s not a ground breaking film, by any means, but the ensemble performances are superb. Every small role is given ample opportunity to shine. The film also marks the rising star that is John Hawks, who’s rapidly gone from TV character actor to Indy cinema king, with roles in Martha Marcy May Marlene and Winter’s Bone.

The Sessions tells the true life story of poet Mark O’Brien (John Hawks), a polio sufferer for most of his life, and his quest to lose his virginity with the help of sex surrogate Cheryl Cohen Greene (Helen Hunt). A sex surrogate, for those of you in dark, is a sort of sex therapist who works with people needing guidance in the act of sexual intercourse, but due to a disability or psychological impotency are not able to fully utilise their abilities. Essentially a Sherpa up the mountain of virginity.

Director Ben Lewin is probably not the most well known director out there, but his own personal story – Lewin is a polio survivor – helps when you have to make the audience forget that your lead character is in an iron lung during most of the film. Lewin studied all of O’Briens written works and interviews to get a sense of the man and realised that humour was a central theme throughout his life. And so we get that with each of the character pairings, whether it’s O’Brien and his Catholic priest, assistants or therapist. The conversations with his priest, played by William H. Macey, are particularly hilarious. With the two men bonding over their lack of sexual experience and catholic convictions .

John Hawks puts in a brilliant performance, considering the severe limitations of the role. Only moving his head and having to rely more on facial expressions and tone of voice for his portrayal of O’Brien. Helen Hunt is also amazing. Playing quite a vulnerable role for a women her age, but looking very good indeed. Some of the more interesting parts of her performance happen in the times she’s back at home with her own family, and how she deals with the emotional baggage of being a surrogate. When she’s with O’Brien she’s acting another role. A role that requires her to be an emotionally sensitive teacher and therapist all rolled into one.

When you see a film like this, it’s quite easily labelled ‘Oscar bait’ because the lead character has a physical ailment, but in the case of the The Sessions, it is Oscar worthy, but not for those reasons. I really enjoyed the journey taken and as mentioned before, the entire cast work very well as an ensemble. I’d have given the film a full grade A, but in terms of cinematography it doesn’t do anything exciting, it just fulfils the job adequately.

The Sessions is released on the 18th January 2013




  1. […] I was lucky enough to catch this at the London Film Festival, but it isn’t going to be released (outside of the US) until next year, most likely to tie in with any potential Oscar buzz it generates. It was part Oscar bait, part humble drama. The ensemble cast is what stands out in this film and not necessarily the directing. Helen Hunt and John Hawks are both hotly tipped contenders for the Best Acting Oscars categories. [FULL REVIEW] […]

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