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...as good as it gets
An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis
If someone suggests a movie about a sex
therapist and a paralyzed man, might you say, “Not for me, no thanks?”
Don’t. The Sessions has been made by a team of actors and
filmmakers who manage to avoid every pitfall that might accompany that
premise. No prurience, no graphic scenes, no sentimentality, no
histrionics. What they have done instead is to tell a tale of powerful
emotions conveyed with great restraint by an extraordinary cast. This is
indeed as good as it gets.
outings as reprieve, Mark O’brien (John Hawkes) has lived in an iron lung
since polio struck him as a young boy. He has surface sensation but no
muscle mobility which leaves him completely dependent on a series of
caretakers. He makes his way to the church of Father Brendan (William H.
Macy) where he finds not just a priest for confession but an advisor and
finally, a friend.
This is the
story of the tough, harshly limited world of a physically dependent man
who at 38 decides he needs to lose his virginity before he dies. Enter,
Helen Hunt as Cheryl, a sex therapist specializing in disabled patients.
There is a
limit of six on the number of sessions she will give him, and as we watch
the tangle of emotions unfold, we understand why. When Cheryl asks “What’s
it like being a poet?” and Mark answers, “It’s a way of being inside my
head where I spend most of my time,” we are surprisingly shattered. These
two have reached us.
In a very
tough role with no mobility of limb or facial expression, John Hawkes
shows us the agony of Mark’s life as well as the joy he feels when he
connects with the women he loves. Humor is both his lifeline and his path
is lovely as Amanda, an early caretaker who loves Mark in her own way, but
can’t return the love he confesses for her. Moon Bloodgood plays Vera who
takes Amanda’s place. Contained and slightly distant, she wins us as she
puts down deep roots of loyalty.
Macy, he of the wonderfully rutted face and wondrous ability, creates a
priest who listens and then steps outside his Catholicism to counsel his
new friend. As Mark describes the details of his therapy, Macy’s priceless
expressions are those of a man undone by the graphics of description yet
determined to stay the course.
Helen Hunt creates a woman whose home life with husband Josh (Adam Arkin)
and their son is as normal as her professional one is unusual. Naked
throughout most of her scenes, she is unquestionably brave, but she
appears so completely comfortable with it that she creates comfort for the
audience. Professional and calm, she conveys deep emotion with nearly
imperceptible shifts of expression; it is a performance laced with
compassion. It is Helen Hunt who lifts the movie beyond all expectation.