REVIEW: The Sessions

20 11 2012

I went into “The Sessions” assuming it was tailor-made for Oscars, but I walked out assuming it was tailor-made to annoy me.  It’s as if writer/director Ben Lewin found the perfect characters for awards season glory – disabled poet/virgin, sex surrogate with a heart of gold, and a “hip” priest – and failed to explore them any further beyond an archetype.

I’m not quite sure who deserves the blame for the film’s total inability to connect, Lewin’s overly simplistic scripting and characterization or the actors for failing to fill in the gaps.  All things considered, these characters should be a slam dunk for Oscar nominees John Hawkes and William H. Macy and especially for Oscar winner Helen Hunt.  They play such sympathetic characters: Hawkes’ Mark O’Brien is a tender poet who merely wants to experience the ecstasy of sex that our culture trumpets so loudly, and Hunt’s Cheryl is a teacher of sexual form who finds herself looking to her clients to make her feel the appreciation she lacks at home.

“The Sessions” could have explored how the two found fulfillment in what they lacked, Mark from sex and Cheryl from intimacy.  However, Lewin keeps the movie operating on a mere surface level, aiming for “American Pie” style gags about sexual naïveté.  Mark O’Brien is really not all that different from Jason Biggs’ Jim Levenstein if you compared the two.  And I guess continuing the analogy, William H. Macy’s Catholic priest serves a very similar function as Jim’s dad, played by Eugene Levy, in terms of providing some inappropriate advice given their symbolic positions.

Especially given the physical commitment on display from the two leads, what with Hawkes only able to contort his head and Hunt taking off all the clothes and exposing the entirety of her body, the sitcom-esque nature of their characters are brought to light, exposed, and shamed.  If the actors are going to such drastic lengths to animate Mark and Cheryl, why could I not care the slightest bit for either of them?  Going for broke on “The Sessions,” which was already broke to begin with, didn’t pay off for the audience.  C+

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2 responses

20 11 2012
Kristie

Wonderful review!

26 11 2012
THE SESSIONS « 88.5 WFDD Media Critic Mary Dalton

[…] simplistic or as Oscar bait (this is the general opinion of my soon-to-be student Marshall Shaffer https://marshallandthemovies.com/2012/11/20/sessions/).  After reading his blog post, I could understand how he might have this impression of the film. […]

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