The Sessions, Running time: 93 mins, Certificate: 15 ****

John Hawkes and Helen Hunt in The Sessions

John Hawkes and Helen Hunt in The Sessions

First published in Film news and reviews by

POET and journalist Mark O’Brien was paralysed from the neck down by childhood polio and left needing an iron lung to breathe. He could only survive for a few hours outside the machine with the aid of an air pipe.

John Hawkes plays him in this drama about fulfilling the desires of a man who spent his life in the horizontal position but was also a bit of a romantic. He decides to do something about it after the nurse who looks after him and wheels him around the city on a gurney rejects his declaration of love and marriage proposal.

Asked to write a magazine feature about sex and the disabled, he’s introduced to the world of sex surrogates. He begins a course of therapy with Cheryl (Helen Hunt) starting with body awareness and – hopefully – culminating in sexual intercourse.

He seeks advice on his search for sex from his local Catholic priest (William H Macy), who’s somewhat bemused by the request.

Although flat on his back with only his head showing from the iron lung or bed sheet for most of the film Hawks gives a finely detailed and sympathetic portrait of a man seeking his romantic ideal.

No Oscar nomination for him but a best supporting actress nod for Helen Hunt in a performance often described as “brave”, possibly because she spends much of the film totally naked as Cheryl goes about her sexual healing.

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