The Sessions (2012)

A man is a man, and he needs to get laid. Ain’t nothing else to it.

Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes) is a man in an iron lung who decides he wants to lose his virginity. After consulting with his priest, Father Brendan (William H. Macy), he gets in touch with a professional sex surrogate named Cheryl Cohen-Greene (Helen Hunt). What starts off as sex, soon turns into something more than they ever realized was imaginable in the first-place.

Not only does this flick seem like a tough-sell to the regular, movie-going audience out there but it also seemed like a tough-sell in my own damn household. Seriously, I was struggling to get people to go with me and see this and even though my sissy and I ended up spending out Thanksgiving night together at this, I still couldn’t believe that nobody wanted to see a movie about a dude with polio, making sexy-time with a therapist. Now that I think about it, it is a bit of a weird movie to want to go out and see, especially on Turkey Day but it ain’t that bad, right? I mean, Helen Hunt was once everybody’s favorite sweetheart and still can considered one too, right?

Actually, even though Hunt is probably the biggest-name they have going for this thing, it’s a shame it’s not going to get the film any publicity anyway because it deserves it. Let’s be honest here, this is basically a movie about a dude, trying to get laid, can’t seem to move any part of his body except his neck and man-meat, and ends up having “sessions” with a lady who he pays money to, but at the end of the day, she is still a therapist. It’s a pretty dirty story once you think about it and one that really doesn’t catch you right away and have you think of it being “the feel-good movie-event of the year”, and even though it doesn’t go right up to that praise, it still has a lot that puts a smile on your face.

I can’t believe that this was based on actual guy, an actual story, and that the dude freakin’ posted all of this info into a magazine-article. It just goes to show you that you can do anything if you have a gift, but yet, also shows you if you are able to look on the bright-side of things no matter how shitty life may get, and that’s what the whole-point of this flick is all about. O’Brien is definitely a guy who seems like he deserves pity from us because he can’t do anything other than move his neck around and about, and has to be wheeled everywhere, but he never asks for it. Instead, he just looks at everything with a big smile on his face and feels the need to not let the shitty-things get in the way of what could be a pretty enjoyable life, despite the obvious problem of not being able to move any parts of your body. With the exception of your neck, head, and *ahem*, “other” head. I’m funny, I know.

That’s why the mixture of all of this sex-stuff and this inspirational, life-notes from a guy who’s happy to live it, doesn’t seem like it would mix well at all no matter who or what you threw at it, but it does. The sex-scenes are so frank, so honest, and so up-front that they never feel like you’re watching sex-scenes straight from the Hollywood mind and soul. They are shown in a way where two people, engage in an act where they both connect, amongst other things, with one another through their powers in their bodies and it’s as real as you’re going to get from sex-scenes in movies. Yes, people get naked, people do ejaculate, and people do do a lot of heavy-petting to get another aroused, but it isn’t as exploitative as it may sound. It’s sweet and used in a way to show us these two characters, and the way they connect with each other in a way that they never, ever thought was remotely possible. It’s a great-way to use sex to enhance your story, without going overboard.

However, you take away all of that nudity, you take away all of that sex, and you take away other dirty-stuff that goes down, then you really don’t have anything you haven’t seen before. Even though this story is obviously based on a real event and even better, is based on a real dude, the film still never fully gets off the ground and you feel a lot less inspiration than you would have expected from a story about a guy who finds himself through sex. It’s a story that reminded me a lot of My Left Foot and even though I wouldn’t go so far as to say that movie was an all-out masterpiece, it still played-off as if it was a character-study that had some inspirational backgrounds about never letting the odds stack against you and living up to all you can be in life. All of those same, inspirational themes and elements are shown here, but never to the point of where they really impact you. They just feel like they’re there to tell you a story, show you how your life ain’t all that bad to begin with, and how we can all do the same as this O’Brien guy. It’s a nice sentiment, but it’s nothing new that I haven’t seen done or heard before in other, more inspirational movies about beating the odds in-life.

And also, the editing was a bit weird in this movie as well. I don’t know whether or not this flick went through a couple of rough-cuts through the numerous festivals it showed-up at, but a lot of this movie feels like it could have been trimmed off, or even better, left in there but given a reason for even showing-up. One instance is the scene between O’Brien’s handler and a hotel clerk that is obviously hitting on her, trying his hardest to do so, and just being confused about what’s going on between the sex surrogate and O’Brien. This instance does contain a couple of the funnier-moments in the movie (and there are many), but just did not feel needed for the final-product and made me wonder why a lot more of this film wasn’t cut, just to make sure it wouldn’t drag. Then again, it does run a lean 93 minutes, and another significant-cut would have probably knocked it right-down to 85 or 86 minutes. Not a terrible run-time, but a bit weird to have I guess.

The one person who pulls through all of this material, no matter how choppy it may get, is John Hawkes as Mark O’Brien and proves why the guy should be in more leading-roles, rather than just standing in the background, giving his two cents every 20 minutes, and letting the leading-star take over the reigns. Hawkes does a great-job with this role because he’s forced to convey a lot of emotions through his face, neck, and head, that surprisingly, all tell a story of a man that obviously has good-intentions, doesn’t want to be looked down on, and most of all, just wants to feel and understand what all of this beauty about sex is really all about. It’s a nice sentiment for a character to have, but Hawkes makes us truly believe in this good-natured act for so long, that it doesn’t even seem like an act. He seems like a real person that just wants to experience life, just like everyone else, regardless of the odds that stand in his way. I think Hawkes is very good in this and may just get an Oscar nomination, but if not, it doesn’t matter because the guy is still so, so freakin’ good at every role he takes.

Playing the sex surrogate that makes all of his wildest dreams come true, is Helen Hunt who is a gal I haven’t seen in awhile, but shows right back-up and reminds us why she is so damn lovely and amazing to watch as an actress. What I liked so much about Hunt’s character here is that even though she may have some insecurities here and there, she’s still a strong-willed, understandable woman that is only doing this to help people out there in the world and still goes home to a son and husband every night, in a very happy-mood too, may I add. Hunt is pretty daring with this role because she lets loose of the clothes a lot and spends a lot of the time just naked, for the sake of being naked, and it doesn’t matter one-bit because she’s in great-shape and is even better to watch since this is one of the most-meaty roles we’ve seen from her in quite some-time. She’s likable, understandable, and most of all, human and I hope she gets an Oscar-nomination for this as I think she definitely should because of what she’s able to do, pull-off, and have us think about her in the end.

William H. Macy isn’t really as huge of a part in this story as much as the previews/trailers may have you think, but the guy is still great as the down-to-earth, mellowed-out priest that hangs-out with O’Brien and never gets on his shit for doing the dirty deeds that the lord frowns upon. It’s great to see a religious-figure play such a big-part of a movie, without making it totally about that aspect and throwing away any type of other ideas or themes about love and sex that may be out there. Still, Macy is awesome and I have to wonder: why does that hair-do make him look so freakin’ cool?

Consensus: The Sessions is not the special type of life-changing experience you may expect from a movie about a physically-handicapped man finding love and sex, but is still well-acted from everybody involved, treats it’s subject and characters with decency, and never holds anything back in terms of where it goes or what it shows (sex scenes, I’m talking about you you dirty-boys).



  1. Another great review Dan.

    Caught this one a while back at one of those aforementioned festivals and the only editing issue that I spotted was with the rather rapid pace of the ending. Maybe if these scenes had been separated as an epilogue they wouldn’t have seemed so sudden but man, they came as a bit of a shock.

    Still, it was a surprisingly charming piece of cinema; much lighter and more loveable than one would expect given the concept. I’m not sure about all the awards buzz though, as great as Hawkes is (I love the guy) the role is almost too easy, the character too content and as he doesn’t get depressed there are no big, dark oscar-baiting scenes to play.

  2. Enjoyed reading your review Dan. Been awhile tween family and other activities. A friend recommended this solely on Helen Hunts performance. That and your review has me wanting to see it.

  3. Nice review, Dan. I really enjoyed this. Fantastic performances, and they made a story out of something I that wouldn’t think would even play to a mainstream audience. I hope Hawkes gets the recognition he deserves.

  4. It sounds dirty when you explain the plot, but it really is presented in a very mature way. It isn’t as puerile as it sounds. John Hawkes and Helen Hunt are incredible in this. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them both get Oscar nominations either. It’s really an extraordinary little picture. Check out my review if you want to know why I loved it so much.

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