Film Reviews

Quelle ménage: Helen and John and the Iron Lung

Funny and telling, The Sessions details the relationship between a sex therapist and a virgin polio victim

Oscar-bound, and for all the right reasons, the cunning true-life story in The Sessions is based on the writings of Mark O’Brien, iron-lung-encased polio victim, who, at age 38, decided to seek out a sex therapist to help him lose his virginity. He does, finding a compatible spirit in the form of Cheryl Greene, as played by Helen Hunt, returning triumphantly here to the screen in a starring role. She is matched, no small compliment, by the character actor John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone); the two performers melt into their roles. The actors disappear and the characters take their places–and the quiet, deeply moving story begins to soar. But without histrionics.

Both Hawkes and Hunt deserve Oscar nominations, and will receive them if nominators–Hollywood types who usually prefer violence–will actually watch the screeners sent to them by the Academy.

Luck be with these actors/characters and us, the nicely-written story, gentle but unsentimental, lets Hunt and Hawkes achieve rare rapport, even to the point that the therapist and client can joke and visit tenderness upon one another.

Hawkes’s confidante is a liberal (Berkeley) priest (the reliable William H. Macy), a kind of one-man Greek Chorus who tells Hawkes when God will give him a free pass on the (explicit) sex–and us, too. We can snicker and still feel Morally Superior.

The duo agree on six sessions, aiming to achieve coitus by the end of the fourth session. Can they?

What happens is both surprising and convincing. Thank God both these people, whom we grow to care for, have interactive senses of humor and irony.

How effective is the therapy, both physically and psychologically? Well, enough that the therapist’s husband (Adam Arkin) becomes jealous.

The laughs, big and small, come frequently in this 92-minute movie, and not one of them is cheap or forced. The movie, which will be as effective streamed online or on DVD as shown in a theater, awaits discovery by an appreciative audience–not just for the holidays, but beyond.

Gifted moviemakers have crafted an unpretentious but memorable film in the almost relentless prurience of the American studio system.

By the by, this movie would make a pleasant stocking-stuffer for them who do such things. One thing’s for sure:recipients will sure as hell see more of Helen Hunt than they have seen before. She bares both body and soul in this sly, heartfelt movie,

See it already.


The Weekly’s very own film critic, Bob Green, will make an appearance at two special screenings at the Doris Duke Theatre at the Honolulu Museum of Art, discussing his participation as producer and writer in two extraordinary films, Samsara and Baraka. The latter is a boundary-breaking 1992 film tracing the connections between religious rituals and nature, that Roger Ebert called “the finest video film disc that I have ever viewed or ever imagined.” This year’s Samsara is “a film laced with exquisite images,” says the Los Angeles Times of director Ron Fricke’s trademark blend of high tech editing and technology dedicated to the presentation of nature, man and beauty. (See Film Blurbs, below.)