Is it possible to make a light-hearted movie about a man in an iron lung? The Sessions comes awfully close to realizing that unlikely goal via the true story of journalist and poet Mark O'Brien, who decided at age 38 to lose his virginity despite the extreme physical disability he acquired through a childhood bout with polio. Writer/director Ben Lewin based the film on a magazine article O'Brien wrote called "On Seeing a Sex Surrogate" and on discussions with both O'Brien's real-life surrogate and late-life partner, and he captures the intelligence and wry humor that make his hero's struggles a worthy subject.
What truly distinguishes The Sessions (which won the Audience Award at this year's Sundance Film Festival) is the grown-up and matter-of-fact way it addresses the entire topic of sex. Helen Hunt brings clear-eyed depth to the role of sex therapist Cheryl Cohen Greene, allowing The Sessions to equate sex with love and intimacy in a manner seldom seen in movies. As O'Brien, John Hawkes (Winter's Bone) quietly builds a strong and profoundly human presence. It's more entertaining and uplifting than the basic facts of the story suggest, even if it doesn't quite transcend its obvious Oscar-bait status. The Sessions may be an unconventional love story, but it's a love story all the same. — KEN KORMAN