#LFFtovers: The Sessions

Director    Ben Lewin
Starring    John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H Macy, Moon Bloodgood, Adam Arkin, Rhea Perlman, Annika Marks
Release    19 OCT (US) 18 JAN (UK)    Certificate 15
4 stars


22nd October 2012

No sooner than it had begun (okay, 12 days after it had begun), the London Film Festival closes for another year. Shit. Even though I managed to break my own record by seeing a whopping SEVEN films in competition, I've still managed to emerge into the cold light of day with loads of poorly-written notes for films I've not yet had time to review. Hence these 'LFFtovers': a rather delicious pun that hopefully distracts you from how sloppy I've been in adding my reviews. Shut up. Here's my take on The Sessions.

The Sessions was the second film I saw at LFF 2012, and the second film featuring a character with a life-altering disability. While Rust & Bone was really very good – so good it allegedly inspired one couple to actually start fucking during the screening – the tone is radically different from The Sessions. The former uses the main character's accident as the dramatic, emotional crux of the movie: the epicentre of tragedy. John Hawkes' character Mark O'Brien, however, has been living with polio for his entire life. Although he's paralysed from the neck down, Mark has made his peace with what he is and isn't capable of. All except one thing: sex. Or 'rust and boning', to use modern parlance.

"Just call me Matthias Schoenaerts."

Though The Sessions is heart-achingly sad at its core, it doesn't set out its stall to make you cry – far from it. Writer/director Ben Lewin has obviously made a conscious decision to ditch anything overly depressing and concentrates on the lighter, more uplifting stuff – the kind of shameless feelgoodery that makes you feel utterly wretched for having two arms, two legs, a functioning central nervous system and yet a desire to spend your free time sitting still in a cinema eating Skittles. The Sessions approaches its difficult subject matter from a position of quizzical interest, dispensing with the majority of the moping in favour of small pockets of joy, sadness and longing.

As The Incredible Suit has selfishly already stated, it's almost impossible to describe a film like The Sessions without using the words "touching" and "brave", but that's only because it's touchingly brave. John Hawkes, lay perma-flat and adopting a nasal affectation, gives a horizontal role three dimensions with humour and wit, all of which only serves to make you feel his plight without him ever having to play to the camera. On being asked whether he's religious, Mark replies: "Oh yes, I'd find it intolerable not to have someone to blame for all of this."

Helen Hunt's role as Mark's sex therapist is arguably even more challenging – she has to move her limbs and everything, not like her work-shy co-star. The question of what makes a sex therapist different from a prostitute is raised (they don't want your repeat business, apparently), and Hunt's performance is certainly powerful enough to distract you from the fact that she's rocking an extreme nuddy situation. If there was a category at the Oscars for Best Acting While Completely Naked, well... I'd probably start watching the Oscars. Kudos to the Huntmeister at any rate.

Another close shave. Ha ha ha. Captions.

Neither an issue-pushing disability drama or a crude, American Polio-style sex comedy, The Sessions is sweet and winning – 'feel good' minus the fingers down the throat. Lewin resists all temptation to square off the characters – the carer who can't hack it, the douchebag husband who just doesn't get it, the judgemental priest. Not in this movie: everyone is human and believable and fallible, and at the centre of it all is Hawkes, the most vibrant, colourful character of the lot.

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