By Forrest Hartman
Rated R for strong sexuality including graphic nudity and frank dialogue
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand
Actress Helen Hunt earned her second Oscar nomination for her supporting role in “The Sessions,” a movie based on real-life polio survivor Mark O’Brien’s quest to experience sex. Although the material is graphic, it isn’t particularly lurid because the movie is actually an argument that severely disabled people can lead rich and rewarding lives.
Hunt plays sexual surrogate Cheryl Cohen-Green (Helen Hunt), a woman hired to help O’Brien (John Hawkes) lose his virginity and realize that he is capable of having an enjoyable sex life. Much of the movie’s press has focused on her frank and fearless portrayal (nudity included) of a sex professional, but Hawkes is also astounding in the lead role. Because polio left O’Brien confined to an iron lung for much of his life, most of Hawkes’ acting involves only his face and voice, yet his performance is one of the most memorable of 2012. Also strong is William H. Macy as Father Brendan, a kind priest who supports O’Brien’s decision to see Cohen-Green even though her work is strictly against church policy.
The story doesn’t lend itself to movement, yet director Ben Lewin (a polio survivor himself) manages to maintain a brisk pace. In fact, a scene where O’Brien’s iron lung temporarily shuts down is among the most suspenseful and terrifying you’ll find on film.
Obviously, “The Sessions” is not intended for children because of the graphic sexual nature of the material, but the film is recommended viewing for all adults. The acting is tremendous, Lewin’s direction is smart, and the story is one of hope, inspiration and enlightenment.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include several making-of featurettes.