A touching and intimate look at the sexual awakening of Polio-addled Mark O’Brien (Ethan Hawkes), The Sessions falls just ever so short of making a complete Dramatica grand argument—though this might be for the better (explanation later).
Mark, struck with Polio and saddled with an Iron Lung since the age of 6 (MC Throughline:
Universe), struggles to find his place within the world of love and romance (OS Throughline:
Psychology). Having unsuccessfully proposed to his beautiful caretaker Amanda (OS Driver:
Decision), the paralyzed poet begins to fear that it is now or never (MC Concern:
Present). Calling upon the services of sexual surrogate Cheryl Cohen-Greene (Helen Hunt), Mark sets out to lose his virginity (RS Throughline:
Their sessions start out innocently enough, but soon become serious as Mark works his writerly magic upon the emotionally shut-off Cheryl (IC Throughline:
Mind). With only six appointments within which to work his mojo (OS Limit:
Optionlock), Mark never misses a chance to boyishly push for more than a professional transaction (OS Goal:
Conceiving, MC Problem:
Unfortunately, the film never pushes for more than this. The Limit breaks when they cut the sessions short at four sessions, leaving the Audience wondering when and how this tale will finish. Cheryl’s Throughline starts late and ends abruptly. Thematically, Mark explores issues of Attraction and Cheryl complements this with her issues of Appraisal, but the Overall Story never fully addresses the Issues of Need. The pieces were in place to do so—Amanda’s need for love, Father Brendan (William H. Macy) and his unmet physical needs, and Josh (Adam Arkin) and his imperative demands that Cheryl convert. But they were left untouched and under-explored.
Of course, in a film like this, such an approach might not have been such a bad thing. A fully explored argument could have come off heavy-handed and done a disservice to this very real and very small human experience. When a film runs short (as Sessions did at 95 minutes) it often does so at the expense of telling a complete story. Thankfully, the stellar performances from Hawkes and Hunt more than make up for this oversight.
All in all, a tale worth telling…and a tale worth watching.