Its synopsis sounds like a parody of a Sundance movie. Indeed, unintentional comedy abounded in Park City this year: “Yeah, I’m going to see the one about that guy in the iron lung who wants to lose his virginity.”
Based on the true story of poet Mark O’Brien, The Sessions is such an earnest little puddle of feel-good inspiration that I feel like an asshole for disliking it so much. The invaluable character actor John Hawkes dials back his usual menace to play a bedridden saint, haplessly pining for his female assistants before finally hiring Helen Hunt’s sex therapist.
Hunt gives the kind of performance critics are contractually obligated to call “brave,” because she’s nude for most of the movie. There is something admirable about The Sessions’ blunt portrayal of human sexuality. Hunt just stands there naked as a jaybird, all business-like while helping our hero “attempt to achieve intercourse.” I wasn’t distracted by the full-frontal so much as I was by her laughable attempt at a Boston accent, which sounds like Julianne Moore on 30 Rock.
William H. Macy co-stars as a long-haired, easy-going Catholic priest, figuring Jesus will give O’Brien “a pass” on this one. Their relaxed banter isn’t believable for a minute, but it’s enjoyable enough when taken with the movie’s lackadaisical, low-stakes atmosphere. Any guesses if pesky romantic feelings start to get in the way of all this sex therapy? I think you know where this is going.
Writer-director Ben Lewin is a TV veteran who cut his teeth on stuff like Touched By an Angel, which becomes screamingly obvious about five minutes into this film. Aesthetically atrocious, The Sessions is one of the drabbiest-looking movies you will see this year. It’s all so plodding and beige, yet you feel like a jerk for ragging on such a well-meaning trifle. Hawkes, in particular, is so endearing and suffused with kindness, why not just let the poor guy get laid already?
Giving this movie a bad review feels like kicking a kitten.