The Sessions (Blu-ray)
Directed by Ben Lewin
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 95 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish, French
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish
MSRP: $ 29.99
Release Date: February 12, 2013
Review Date: February 13, 2013
Afflicted with polio at an early age, journalist/poet Mark O'Brien (John Hawkes) has never let his inability to move anything but his head prevent him from accomplishing his goals including attending and graduating college and pursuing a writing career. But he’s never explored the sexual side of life, and for that he hires a sexual surrogate Cheryl Cohen-Green (Helen Hunt). Over the course of a number of sessions, Cheryl is able to work with Mark to help him achieve his goal of losing his virginity0. The problems arise, of course, when feelings begin to get mixed up with business, and along with numerous intimate conversations with his priest and best friend Father Brendan (William H. Macy) about his sessions and his feelings, Mark realizes his life will be incomplete without a loving companion.
Written and directed by Ben Lewin (himself a victim of polio), the film presents its story with both situational humor and a refreshing candor about sex that takes away any embarrassment one might have about seeing intimacy between people where one of them is not in control of his limbs. Lewin doesn’t back away from the nudity inherent in the sessions either though Helen Hunt’s body gets much more graphic presentation than John Hawkes’. One of the film’s most lyrical passages involves Mark’s sense memories as he’s having his first true intercourse with Cheryl, but all of the sexual sessions are handled with taste and present the growing feelings between these two tender souls finding a common bond and leading to some truly moving work by both actors. Much of the film’s humor involves Mark’s conversations with his priest about his urges and his efforts to explore them. In fact, with Cheryl, a lapsed Catholic now converting to Judaism, also a part of the saga, religion plays an important part in the film, but it’s not ham-fisted into the story and never serves as an agent of censure or prudishness to the proceedings.
The actors are all so marvelous. John Hawkes is nothing like you ever seen him before as he’s altered his voice and contorted his body to achieve the proper physical presence for Mark who lived most of his life in a iron lung or on a portable respirator. Even with those limitations and using only his head and neck, he’s wonderfully expressive and filled with emotions that play off his face in a somewhat miraculous fashion. Helen Hunt’s matter-of-fact comfort with her body in a variety of situations and her graceful way with both the comedy and the drama of the story is lovely. William H. Macy doesn’t overplay his hand as the priest hearing about these intimate sexual details, and his warm, brotherly affection for Mark is palpable throughout. Moon Bloodgood does terrifically as one of Mark’s caregivers. With poker-faced ease at his moods and suggestions, she’s a wonderfully calming presence in the film. We don’t get to see enough of Robin Weigert as the woman who comes late into Mark’s life, but the few scenes she does have show her effervescence wonderfully.
The film is presented in a 1.85:1 transfer faithful to its theatrical exhibition and in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. This is a gorgeous, very natural looking picture throughout with rich color that seems very true to life and flesh tones that are realistic and very appealing. Black levels are fine for the few scenes set in shadows. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix basically lets the rear channels remain idle for most of the movie. The music (an understated score by Marco Beltrami) and sound effects spread naturally enough across the fronts, and dialogue has been masterfully recorded and placed in the center channel, but the rear channels are really wasted in this mix.
All of the video bonus features are offered in 1080p.
There are two deleted scenes which can be viewed separately or in one 3 ½-minute montage.
There are five brief EPK featurettes featuring comments from director Ben Lewin and various members of the cast about the subjects in question.
[*] Director Ben Lewin (4 minutes) discusses the film as a family affair with his wife, son, and daughter as part of the production team and speaks of his inspiration for the film the article written by Mark O’Brien about his experiences with a sexual surrogate.
[*] John Hawkes (4 ½ minutes) is praised by cast members Helen Hunt and William Macy for his commitment to the role while Hawkes himself discusses how he managed to contort his body for the film while cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson adds his own comments about photographing Hawkes.
[*] Helen Hunt (4 ½ minutes) discusses how meeting the real Cheryl Cohen-Green was such an inspiration for her performance while the real Ms. Green also makes some comments.
[*] “A Session with the Cast” (3 ¾ minutes) is a bit misleading since it’s merely brief behind-the-scenes glimpses of the film in production and comments from the three top stars and the director.
[*] “The Women Who Loved Mark” (4 ½ minutes) features interviews not with the real women but with three of the actresses in the film who played real people: Annika Marks who played first love Amanda, Helen Hunt, and Moon Bloodgood.
[/list] The theatrical trailer runs 2 ½ minutes.
There are promo trailers for Stoker, Hitchcock, The Oranges, and A Late Quartet.
4/5 (not an average)
Wonderfully engaging and quite moving, the story of writer Mark O’Brien makes a fascinating ninety minutes in The Sessions. It’s definitely worth a rental. Recommended!