VOD film review: The Sessions
Ivan Radford | On 31, Jan 2014Reading time: 2 mins
Director: Ben Lewin
Cast: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy
Watch The Sessions online in the UK: Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Rakuten TV / Google Play
Can a bloke with no movement in 90% of his body have sex? That’s the question haunting Mark (Hawkes), a man who can only spend a few hours outside of a giant iron long in his bedroom – or what would be his bedroom, if he had any need for a bed. And so he hires Cheryl (Hunt), a sex therapist to help him learn how to… be intimate. It’s a struggle, in more ways than one, but Ben Lewin’s film eventually gets the juices flowing,
From the start, it’s obvious that this is John Hawkes’ show. Self-deprecating and funny, he moves from Oscar-nominated supporting role to leading man just by moving his head. “The money’s on the table,” he squeaks awkwardly as Hunt’s therapist begins a session. Then, after getting to third base, his priest (an excellent William H Macy) asks how he feels. “Cleansed and victorious!” comes the reply. It’s a textbook demonstration of comic timing.
But Ben Lewin’s film falls down when it tries to do the serious stuff. Inevitably, Cheryl and Mark develop feelings for each other. That, in itself, isn’t the problem; it’s the way it’s done. Struggling to flesh out its characters, The Sessions resorts to monologues to voice their inner motivations. It’s a fine trick used occasionally – especially with an inactive lead – but once you’ve seen it done three or four times, the effect wears thin.
Hunt, the therapist, speaks her wishes into a dictaphone. Hawkes vents his desires at church, overheard by increasingly shocked members of the congregation. And then, at home, he does it in voiceover as he writes poems and letters – and, in one standalone scene, talks to his cat.
What we end up with is a patchwork of individual 10-second speeches rather than a flowing story; compared to the similar-themed Untouchable, which added depth to its story through interaction, The Sessions is a far flimsier film. The really silly thing is that the cast don’t need any of these contrived soliloquies: when they’re together, Hawkes and Hunt spark off each other naturally. Thanks to their chemistry, The Sessions finally manages to achieve full dramatic intercourse. Yes, the script almost kills the mood, but it gets it up in the end.