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The Sessions

by Howard McQuitter II

The Sessions (2012)

Cast: John Hawke (Mark O’ Brien), Helen Hunt (Cheryl Cohen Greene), William H. Macy (Father Brendan), Moon Bloodgood (Vera), Annika Marks (Amanda), Blake Lindsley (Laura White), Adam Arkin (Josh), Robin Weigert (Susan). (R) Running time: 98 minutes. Director: Ben Levin. 

Twenty-years ago I worked for a lady in an iron lung in St. Paul for three years. In part, that’s one reason I wanted to see “The Sessions”, the other major reason John Hawke (from Alexander, Minnesota) who is from my home state. I had taken notice of him in “Winter’s Bone”(2009) playing the weary uncle of Jennifer Lawrence.

Mark (John Hawke), a man in his thirties, is in an iron lung, fires a middle-age attendant he doesn’t much care for. He fires her for a pretty attendant. Mark has no movement from the neck down because he had polio in boyhood. That disease doesn’t prevent him from attaining a degree in journalism from the University of California-Berkeley. Mark O’Brien played splendiferously by John Hawke. The real mark O’ Brien appears in the 1996 Oscar winning documentary short, “Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien by Jessica Yu.

Back to the movie, Mark has one strange request: having sex since he claims to be a virgin. The film does something most of today’s directors leave absent, that is, bring into the picture a character’s faith. Mark is Catholic and consults Father Brendan (William H.Macy), a liberal priest, who looks like a throwback to the 1960s, reluctantly gives him “permission” for Mark to agree to hire a sex therapist Cheryl Cohen Greene (Helen Hunt). Cheryl and Mark agree to have six sessions as both go through nearly every session in great awkwardness. After each session Mark tells his liberal post-Vatican II priest how each session is ‘progressing”. The movie has a bittersweet taste and tone to it. Nonetheless how John Hawke pulls off a man in an iron lung is quite impressive.

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