Every year there’s at least one film with the words “Festival Hit of the Year” slathered across it. Sometimes it deserves the praise; sometimes it doesn’t. It at least ensures a crowd pleaser of a film.
What these films also bring with them is the chance to see a film that beats to a different drum – than Hollywood at least. Ultimately, yes, you should seek these films out, even if it’s on home video since they don’t wind up on 3,000 screens. And The Sessions, writer/director Ben Lewin’s biopic of polio-plagued Mark O’Brien (played brilliantly by John Hawkes), is certainly no different.
Lewin kicks things off with news footage of the real Mark making his way across the University of California, Berkeley, accepting his degree, and strolling down the street in his motorized gurney. Switching to Hawkes, we catch up with Mark in 1988, where he bides his time writing poetry and getting sponge bathes from his caretaker Joan (Rusty Schwimmer). He attends church where he meets the new priest, Father Brendan (William H. Macy), whom he eventually confides in as a friend. Mark winds up firing Joan based on her attitude and hires Amanda (Annika Marks). Mark starts to fall in love with her but when he confesses his love she quits. Now, Mark is between two caretakers, Rod (W. Earl Brown) and Vera (Moon Bloodgood).
One day, Mark receives a phone call with an article opportunity dealing with the disabled and having sex. Mark begins to interview people including Carmen (Jennifer Kumiyama). Mark realizes he’s starting to be a little out of his league with the article as he is a virgin. He seeks out the help of a sex surrogate – someone who offers intimate physical relations or sex with patients as therapy. Cheryl (Helen Hunt) is more than happy to help Mark out with his situation and let the therapy begin. After a few sessions, Mark has yet again fallen prey to his feelings and writes Cheryl a poem, much to the chagrin of her husband Josh (Adam Arkin) who throws the letter away before she can read it. Will Mark ever find true love? Will Mark succeed in his quest for penetration?