Is it okay to laugh at a handicapped guy? In this case, yes. Mark O’Brien has a wicked sense of humor. He would appreciate your laughter.
John Hawkes is emerging as a brilliant actor, although most folks don’t know him. He received an Oscar nomination in 2010 for his work in “Winter’s Bone” and will likely get another for his portrayal of real life character Mark O’Brien in “The Sessions.”
O’Brien was stricken by polio as a child. As an adult, he is in an iron lung for several hours each day. He hires caregivers who help him participate in life. He attends the University of California in Berkley. He is a virgin.
O’Brien hires a sexual surrogate, played by Helen Hunt, to introduce him to the ways of sex. Their sessions, which contain graphic nudity, are often funny and sometimes touching (pun intended). Despite the nature of these scenes, they are neither shocking nor erotic.
Between their therapy sessions, O’Brien seeks counsel from his priest, played by William H. Macy. The priest sanctions the liaisons and listens as O’Brien relates his experiences.
As the story continues, O’Brien develops affection for Hunt’s character. She, however, is married and keeps things professional. Mostly.
Because O’Brien is an intelligent man with that sharp sense of humor, we don’t feel as sad for him as we might for others with a similar handicap. He is one of the most interesting real life characters depicted onscreen in some time. Hawkes brings him to life beautifully.
“The Sessions” will not be a big box office hit and may not be shown beyond the artsier movie houses. But, for grownups, this movie delivers the sensitive telling of a sweet story and strong performances from the trio of lead actors.