Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Sessions

What's a paralytic polio victim to do, once he's hit 38 and wants to get some action?

I'm assuming here, the guy has no game, what with being in an iron lung most of his life.

Well, if he's a poetic Catholic in Northern California in the late '80s, he might consult with his priest. And since it's Northern California in the late '80s, that priest is probably going to encourage him. And before you know it, he's got a sex surrogate showing him the (heh) ins and outs of makin' sweet love.

And who better to star as the sex surrogate than Helen Hunt, reprising the role she played 20 years in The Waterdance? And who better to replace Eric Stoltz than John Hawkes?

Nah, just kidding, the two movies aren't really that close. Just paralysis and naked Helen Hunt.

So, this is a typical Hollywood glorification of sin and promiscuity, but it's a pretty good movie for that.

John Hawkes plays Mark O'Brien, a sufferer of polio (based on a true story!) who finds himself yearning for a real romantic relationship, especially when he replaces his frumpy old caretaker (played the great character actress Rusty Schwimmer) with the hot young co-ed (Annika Marks).

This leads him to Moon Bloodgood (who is quite good in this, apparently surviving her brush with the mediocrity that is "Falling Skies"). Then Helen Hunt. And finally Robin Weigert. Lotta chicks end up liking this guy.

Earl W. Brown also has a role, by the way, making a mini-"Deadwood" reunion (Hawkes, Weigert and Brown).

So, the acting is top notch. Hawkes is great and consistently under-appreciated around award season.

The story—well, it's touching. O'Brien wrestles with God and theology, and is genuinely concerned at the prospect of sinning. And you can't help but root for him. He's a sensitive, intelligent guy with normal drives that are utterly thwarted by his physical state.

It's the sort of thing that the secular world just says "Screw theology. Go for it." The fact that the movie never really gets deeper than that keeps the proceedings light and fluffy, but probably shortchanges Macy's priest and O'Brien's devout Catholic.

Eh. It's impossible not to root for this guy and hope that his "sessions" don't work out. But it's shallow in the area of morality.

The story touches briefly on the general ickiness of sex surrogate-ness. Hunt has a kid and is married to a worthless "philosopher" (the always excellent Adam Arkin). And while it's all supposed to be profesisonal, O'Brien's desire for a normal, romantic relationship is seductive in its own way to a woman whose own husband doesn't care enough about her to, you know, stop her from having sex with other guys for a living.

(Hey, that's my interpretation. I'm sure more sensitive ones are available.)

So, fun, lively, heartwarming and incredibly graphic film of dubious moral proportions. View accordingly.

It's impossible to discuss this film without discussing Helen Hunt's looks. She's in her late 40s, which is age appropriate for the role, and she's also about as nude as you can be in an MPAA "R" rated flick. I'm reminded of the saying (attributed to Catherine Deneuve) that "after 30, an actress has to choose between her face and her ass".

Well, Hunt's ass is amazing. Actually, her whole body is. She's lean and tight and there are plenty of women 20 or even 30 years younger who would kill to have her body.

Her face? Well, I'm not someone who ever thought Hunt was a great beauty. But her face is positively distracting in this film. Part of it can be attributed to really severe makeup in the styles of the '80s. But not nearly enough. I suppose part of it can be attributed to knowing what she looked like 30 years ago, though The Boy thought she was odd looking, too.

So, whether it's that she hasn't gotten plastic surgery or that she has, it's conspicuous. (It may be, per Deneuve, that the same leanness that makes her body look so tight also makes her face tight.) It's a testament to her acting ability that she can overcome this, at least to a degree. She still can project a winning warmth and appeal.

But I can't help but wonder if they'd gone a little less porny and had her put on 10-15 pounds, if that might not have better served the story.

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