Monday, October 22, 2012
The lightest, sweetest movie at the multiplex right now is the one about the polio-stricken poet and writer confined 20+ hours of the day to an iron lung. In a departure from his villainous roles in "Winter's Bone" and "Martha Marcy May Marlene," John Hawkes plays the writer, Mark O'Brien, who after a rejected marriage proposal to one of the Berkeley coeds he employs as caregivers, decides to hire a sex therapist to experience physical intimacy with a woman. It turns out to be Hawkes' best work to date, a performance of abiding humanity, by turns smart, self-deprecating, naïve, almost schoolboyish.
Yet the picture belongs equally to Helen Hunt as the aforementioned sex surrogate, who guides Mark through several abortive encounters before achieving his desired result. Hunt, who has sort of disappeared in recent years, is matter-of-fact, no-nonsense, and determinedly professional, yet caring and deeply sensitive to Mark's corporeal limitations and physical responses. Rarely has Hunt been so engaging and likable and comfortable in her own skin. William H. Macy provides a counterpoint and a bit of comic relief as the clergyman Mark asks to bless his prospective crash course in adult education. What's best about "The Sessions," though, is not the comedy, which produces a few chuckles. It's the gentle spirit of this particular man and woman.